“In Persuasion Nation” by George Saunders

My favorite description of George Saunders thus far comes from Michiko Kakutani of The New York Times. In a review of his collection Civilwarland in Bad Decline, she writes, “The debut of an exciting new voice in fiction, Mr. Saunders writes like the illegitimate offspring of [Nathanael] West and Kurt Vonnegut.”In Persuasion Nation

Saunders short stories and novels are all marked by the same satirical voice that holds an unyielding mirror up to the reader, forcing them to ask questions of themselves at every turn. At times, I worry that he might be predicting the future.

The short story “In Persuasion Nation,” from a collection of the same name, is awash in satire and biting criticism. It explores– with endless curiosity–a bizarre, fantastical future that feels impossible and horrifying, yet at the same time so tangible and close. In this particular story, we are given a fantasy realm of our Commercialized Economy. We are alone in this world. No drop lines of familiarity or reality, just brand names whizzing by so fast it makes your head spin.

Some questions to think about:

  1. One of the greatest characteristics of satirical writing is that it can escalate almost endlessly. That said, sometimes something has to give, and the reader has to feel rooted in a place they can at least somewhat relate to. Does Saunders do a good job of not losing us in the absurd nature of this piece?
  2. What does structure do for this story? It’s broken down into sections that are numbered, punctuating the break between different vignettes. What other effects does this have?
  3. What do we make of this “false god?” What does representing a deity with nothing more than a scrap of garbage say about this world Saunders places before us? Is it a cop out? Or is it something more?
  4. Is there enough of a cohesive narrative in this story? Does pulling the reader’s attention between so many characters and settings lend itself to the story’s subject?

I don’t know if all of Saunders’ fears will one day be realized, but I do know that it’s been about two years since I’ve lived without cable, and now any time I watch TV anywhere, the amount of commercials drives me nuts.

But they’re everywhere. On our phones, in our music, everything catered to our tastes, to what a database knows about us.

If anything, this story does a great job of turning our society on its head, leaving us to watch as everything wobbles precariously back and forth.

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