George Saunders’ saintly, disappointing new stories: A tender-hearted takedown of the Great Recession
In his latest novel, set in 2010, the writer-turned-novelist’s most famous protagonist, George Saunders, is a successful, well-adjusted New Yorker going to a reunion in Texas as an American-born man, after having moved there as a child. Back in New York, he is a middle-class novelist and novelist-in-training, and he thinks of his writing as the work of “an artisan.” In fact, he is a failure, a failure writer, a writer out of work.
The narrator of his new novel, “This American Life”—that is, his life—is a different person. This is the story of how he came to know himself as the person he is and the story of what happened when he became that person.
The opening chapter offers a characteristically bleak perspective on the economic meltdown. And then the novel continues in a steady flow of anecdotes, some funny, some sad, some tragic, all told as a stream of consciousness, as if to make the story more human, more relatable. In some respects, this is a personal narrative, but it is also one that reflects the realities and hopes of the world.
“My parents were wealthy and successful, but a part of me, even as a kid, wanted them to notice me more, to love me differently,” Saunders told The Huffington Post on Friday evening, the publication of the book and the author’s promotion of it coming the night before. “[In the novel] I’m trying to present a more complete picture that also encompasses what I felt my parents didn’t show me. I’m trying to say that all the good news in America didn’t prevent other awful things from happening.”
He didn’t say any more, and he looked at me, and he said, ‘That was too painful to read, but that’s my truth.’
As of Wednesday evening, the book had been downloaded more than 35,000 times