George Saunders story in Harper's

I only read "Brad Carrigan, American" once in the airport and then gave it to my brother, who is still in Florida with it, so I can't reread or refer to it. I cannot decide if I liked it or not. I'm leaning toward not. I really need to reread it. What I liked: I laughed out loud at the FinalTwist game show, where the contestants learn they are eating their own mothers. I liked that it dramatized the vapid and shallow and selfish and hypocritical miasma that passes for many American lives. I liked the talking corpses in the yard. I was entertained, for the most part, by the story. BUT: Something about the flip and glib tone bothered me. Like, if you're going to tackle these big, important themes, don't do it in such a cutesy, cartoonish manner. That feels like ducking, like hiding behind clever humor in order to avoid really addressing what these kinds of inane TV shows say about our lives in America. And I hated the ending, where Brad dissolves into a gray blob. That seems like what you do when you can't think of an ending. He had a good idea for this story, but the execution left me feeling there was something too trivial about his treatment. It felt like it probably didn't take too long for such a talented writer to write. I did not feel any of these negatives about "Jon," his amazing story in the January 27, 2003 New Yorker. That one blew me away and gave Saunders a lifetime pass in my book to at least be watched for more brilliance. So far, I'm still watching and waiting. I'm sure I'll buy his novella when it comes out.

Also, something is wrong with Blogger today. People are finding it hard to post or comment. They must be doing maintenance (I hope). Final note: take a look at Lila's BAF post re: emailing Connie with opinions on the candidates...


kclou said...

The passage you highlighted is the best one in the book, because it's genuinely hilarious.

I was shocked by the ending, though. It wasn't so much disappointment as annoyance. The ending reads like it wants to be social commentary and wants to be moving, too, but it does so at the expense of the cleverness the story's built on. The protagonist calls out the characters in the ending, but you could argue he calls out the author, as well, except there doesn't seem to any self-awareness on Saunder's part. (Isn't hyper-attention to the self supposed to be a go to in postmodernity?)

I'll put it this way: Saunders does not lie down where all ladders start at the end of this story. But, bizarrely, his hero does. And, even more bizarrely, said hero sounds almost preachy in doing so.

Gordo, what do you think? I think you'd dig the structure of this piece. Others?

TLB said...

Okay, fellas, I finally made it to the library to read this one, and I have to say, I think I agree with Grendel. Though some of it is hilariously well-written and makes pointed comments about life in these United States, overall it left me cold. It was far more glib than most of Saunders' work. I usually feel he is at his best when he combines his hilarious wit with a little more poignancy and human interest, my favorite of his being The End of Firpo in the World, with Sea Oak and Pastoralia close behind.

It did seem preachy. We need a little more preachy from the left in this country, but still. If we were really this morally bankrupt we'd all implode. But then I always prefer understatement to hyperbole, which is probably why I ain't funny.

TLB said...
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