A review of

In Persuasion Nation

by George Saunders

Central question: Does being entertained by violence make us complicit with the Bush administration?
Format: 228 pp., cloth; Size: 5" x 8"; Price: $23.95; Publisher: Riverhead; Editor: Sean McDonald; Cover design: Tribute; Interior design: Claire Vaccaro; Typeface: Goudy; Author’s least favorite color: Ochre; Some of author’s previous occupations: Technical writer, geophysical engineer, worker on oil exploration geophysics crew in Sumatra, doorman in Beverly Hills, roofer in Chicago, convenience store clerk, knuckle-puller in West Texas slaughterhouse; Representative sentence: “Suddenly he is not just sitting there going glub glub glub while examining his own feces with his thumb, which is something we recently found our Billy doing.”

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.

We hope you enjoy this excerpt.

To read the full piece, please visit our store to purchase a copy of the magazine.

—Adam Novy

Adam Novy teaches at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago.

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