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CIVILWARLAND IN BAD DECLINE by George Saunders

CIVILWARLAND IN BAD DECLINE

Stories and a Novella

By George Saunders

Pub Date: Jan. 1st, 1996
ISBN: 0-679-44812-8
Publisher: Random House

A debut collection so friendly and casual in style (pieces first appeared in Harper's and The New Yorker) that it takes a while before you realize what a frightening world Saunders has created. His is a dystopian vision of a "degraded cosmos,'' a future in which leisure and history combine in theme parks for the rich while the rest of humanity fights over scarce resources. Saunders's weird naturalism pulls you in with its chattiness and modest posture--no science-fictional bombast weighs down these skilled narratives. The title piece introduces the author's screwed-up future; the narrator is the cowardly flunkey of a theme- park owner who's trying to interest investors in his dying enterprise. The rides and exhibits are in disrepair, attendance is low, and violent gangs assault the perimeter. A similarly frightened worker in "The Wavemaker Falters'' is haunted by images from the past--he's visited by the ghost of the boy he chopped up by accident in the wave-making machine at the water park where he works. Saunders's future world engenders strange, disgruntled workers, made more vicious by their need to survive a stark and ruthless marketplace. The overweight loser in "The 400-Pound CEO'' works for the insane owner of a raccoon removal company that promises a humanitarian treatment but kills the animals brutally. "Isabelle'' marks one of the few redemptive moments in this bleak collection: In a nightmarish city of blunt racial hatred and easy violence, the narrator discovers family with "Boneless,'' a crippled neighbor he eventually takes in. "Bounty,'' a novella, is Saunders's fullest portrait of the future; it begins in a postmodern freak show where "Flawed'' people work in historical re-creation shows for the rich "Normals.'' Eventually, the claw- footed narrator escapes, journeying cross-country to join the revolution. The politics of scarcity are brilliantly fictionalized in these smart and understated stories that are more Mad Max than 1984.