From Publishers Weekly
Following his superb story collections Civilwarland in Bad Decline
(1996) and Pastoralia
(1999), as well as last year's novella The Brief and Frightening Reign of Phil
, Saunders reaffirms his sharp, surreal vision of contemporary, media-saturated life, but keeps most of the elements within his familiar bandwidth. In the sweetly acerbic "My Flamboyant Grandson," a family trip through Times Square is overwhelmed by pop-up advertisements. In "Jon," orphans get sold to a market research firm and become famous as "Tastemakers & Trendsetters" (complete with trading cards). "CommComm" concerns an air force PR flunky living with the restless souls of his parents while covering for a spiraling crisis at work. The more conventionally grounded stories are the most compelling: one lingers over a bad Christmas among Chicago working stiffs, another follows a pair of old Russian-Jewish women haunted by memories of persecution. Others collapse under the weight of too much wit (the title story especially), and a few are little more than exercises in patience ("93990," "My Amendment"). But Saunders's vital theme—the persistence of humanity in a vacuous, nefarious marketing culture of its own creation—comes through with subtlety and fresh turns. (May)
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*Starred Review* The most unnerving fiction boldly envisions the dire consequences of our most hubristic tendencies: our bottomless greed, maniacal competitiveness, hyper-materialism, environmental obliviousness, spiritual callousness, and fear of being different. Following in the footsteps of Orwell, Bradbury, and Atwood, Saunders writes shrewd, off-the-charts speculative fiction, leading a coterie of similarly inclined short story writers that includes Scott Bradfield, Judy Budnitz, and David Foster Wallace. In his third savagely imaginative collection, his most riveting to date, he considers various forms of diabolical persuasion in a techno-colonized world in which advertising governs every aspect of life. Junk-food products are alive and aggressive, and people and animals are either subjected to cruel experiments or forced to live within the confines of commercials and television vignettes featuring rampant cartoonlike violence. Coercion, brainwashing, peer pressure--all are fiendishly engineered to ensure that the repressed and medicated populace wants only comfort and the latest products, and that any rogue intimations of morality and empathy are swiftly crushed. Funny, creepy, mournful, and outraged, Saunder's ingenious and superbly crafted satirical stories blaze like warning lights on the road to hell. Donna SeamanCopyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved