Pessimist of the Week: George Saunders

You’d normally do well to steer clear of articles with hyperbolic headlines like this one: “George Saunders Has Written the Best Book You’ll Read This Year.” But believe it or not, that’s actually pretty true — the Texas-born author’s new short story collection, Tenth of December, is going to be hard to beat in 2013. And this profile in The New York Times Magazine proves he’s a good choice for our very first Pessimist of the Week. Consider:

His stories are set in what might be described as a just slightly futuristic America or, maybe better, present-day America, where, because of the exigencies of capitalism, things have gotten a little weird. These initial stories often take place in theme parks gone to seed or soul-withering exurban office strips, but the stories themselves are overflowing with vitality; they are sometimes very dark but they are also very, very funny. The characters speak in a strange new language — a kind of heightened bureaucratese, or a passively received vernacular that is built around self-improvement clichés (“It made me livid and twice that night I had to step into a closet and perform my Hatred Abatement Breathing”) — and this lends them the feeling of allegory, though they are something else too, that’s harder to place.

Saunders has been one of my favorite authors since his debut book, CivilWarLand in Bad Decline, and he keeps getting better. And while it might be more accurate to call him a “realist” than a “pessimist,” consider the reality we live in — the two words are rapidly becoming synonyms, if they haven’t already. His latest book manages to be funny, though — fair warning — it’s dark, dark, dark. And absolutely brilliant.

Don’t take our word for it, though: read an excerpt from “The Semplica Girl Diaries” in The New Yorker. You’ll be glad you did! I mean, you’ll also be horrified and depressed, because it’s about as bright and hopeful as the Black Hole of Calcutta. But also glad. Trust us on this one.


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