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Pastoralia
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1001 book reviews > Pastoralia by George Saunders

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Chinook | 282 comments 4 stars

I really liked Pastoralia and Sea Oak - he has an interesting way of making it feel like the stories are set both in the near future and the near past simultaneously and I find that quite fascinating. I also enjoyed the two narrators in The Falls. His ability is so short a story to so fully communicate and entire personality - in The Barber too, though the barber annoyed me quite a bit. I didn’t love Winky - it felt like it didn’t quite go anywhere to me, and The End of FIRPO in the World was fine but not amazing, I thought. All in all, I need to read more Saunders because he’s really good - interesting and unique and I like that his narrators are such normal, everyday people trying to get by.


Kristel (kristelh) | 4259 comments Mod
Rating 4.16
Short stories that are a bit weird but somehow also appealing. I found the stories to be about loneliness. Characters are those on the edge of society. Not quite making it, not quite successful. This has been on my list of books to read not only because it is a 1001 list book but also my first encounter was Entertainment Weekly (2007) ranked the book #63 on its list of the top 100 works of literature since 1983.
Stories included, most have one O Henry Awards for short story.
1, Pastoralia" (Originally published in shorter form in The New Yorker, April 3, 2000)
2. Winky" (The New Yorker, July 28, 1997)
3. Sea Oak" (The New Yorker, December 28, 1998)
4. The End of FIRPO in the World" (The New Yorker, May 18, 1998)
5. The Barber's Unhappiness" (The New Yorker, December 20, 1999)
6. The Falls" (The New Yorker, January 22, 1996)


message 3: by Liz M (last edited Jun 10, 2018 05:04AM) (new) - added it

Liz M | 194 comments Saunders excels at the short story. He can create a whole world, similar to our own, and show a lifetime in a few pages.

Pastoralia - the narrator works as exhibit in a sort of living panorama in a failing History Museum/Park. Both he and his co-worker in the caveman display are struggling in the personal lives, but he is able to maintain a professional facade while she loses her work ethic. In the end, karma is a b***h.

Winky - the narrator attends a self-help seminar, determined to change his miserable loner life living with his needy sister, to come unstuck. But the necessary changes require effort and hurting the person closet to him.

Sea Oak - the narrator lives in a run down housing project with his sister, cousin, their kids, and his aunt. They family are barely surviving on what he earns at a "ladies club" and the aunt's minimum wage job. Then a near tragedy becomes a black comedy which becomes an underdog story.

The End of FIRPO in the World - the shortest story in the collection and the most straightforwardly tragic.

The Barber's Unhappiness - the narrator, a middle-aged bachelor living with his mother, attends a remedial driving school

The Falls - a story with two narrators that each witness an impending tragedy and how they react to it.


Saunders is an incredible writer. My impression of this collection is one of distaste and dislike, but it not because the stories are bad. In fact, they are so well-written that the despair and resentment of the narrators permeates the reading experience and colors how I feel about the work as a whole. Almost all of these stories feature male narrators trapped in a grey existence. And while it is clear they are crushed by poverty and social structures, they are also complicit in the hopelessness of the situation -- they have internalized and accepted their situation and don't or can't change.


Celia (cinbread19) | 147 comments Very unusual book. 6 short stories that were imaginative and weird too.

I both enjoyed the book and was glad when it was done!!

4 stars


message 5: by Zeejane (last edited Jul 13, 2021 06:06PM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Zeejane I listened to the audio book, narrated by the author. Saunders did a great job narrating, and he was able to give each character the persona that he had in mind when writing them.

This collection of short stories hit me upside the head. I was expecting humorous and quirky, based on reviews, but what I wasn't expecting was to be moved by the stories as much as I was. This book is full of deeply flawed people who live incredibly sad, defeated lives. While their situations are absurd, there's a poignancy about them that resonated deeply with me.

Pastoralia is one of my favorite List books to date, a solid 5 star read.


Diane Zwang | 1309 comments Mod
Read in 2015

A book of 6 short stories. From Pastoralia "Do I note any attitudinal difficulties? I do not. How do I rate my Partner overall? Very good. Are there any Situations which require Mediation? There are not. I fax it in." I laughed every time I read this. From Winky, Neil attends a “freaking” seminar at the Hyatt to attend to unfinished business in his life. From Sea Oaks, “At Sea Oak there's no sea and no oak, just a hundred subsidized apartments and a rear view of FedEx.” “Guest rank us as Knockout, Honeypie, Adequate, or Stinker.” George Saunders seems to focus on the dark, seedy side of life.


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