A review of
In Persuasion Nation
by George Saunders
Since his stories first appeared, George Saunders has been one of our most enjoyable writers. But the arrival of his latest collection, In Persuasion Nation, signals a new anxiety in his work, a painful concern about the violent distractions of our post-9/11 entertainment state. These misgivings have driven him to eschew the satisfactions of his previous fiction, in favor of more challenging experiments.
Two of the book’s longer stories take place in a kind of TV netherworld. Brad, the hero of “Brad Carrigan, American,” is a character on what seems a soon-to-be-cancelled TV show. Like so many Saunders protagonists, Brad has a chuckleheaded, hunky-dory lack of understanding about the cruelty of the world. This infuriates Doris, his adulterous wife. “Why do you have so many negative opinions about things you don’t know anything about, like foreign countries and diseases…?” she asks. Because he is excessively compassionate and keeps defending helpless beings, such as Buddy, his castrated dog, Brad is cancelled from his own show and condemned to “devolve into a shapeless blob” and repeat “poor things” because “these are now the only words he knows.” The good guy is destroyed for being good.
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