THE BRAINDEAD MEGAPHONE

ESSAYS

Much smarter and more stimulating than the typical author’s clean-out-the-closet collection.

This provocatively engaging collection illuminates the thought processes of one of America’s masters of literary gamesmanship.

Though the magazine pieces that Saunders (In Persuasion Nation, 2006, etc.) has written for the likes of the New Yorker, Harper’s and GQ provide an inviting introduction to the unique stylist, devoted fans of his fiction will find their appreciation (and understanding) deepened as the author analyzes the effects that the writing of others has had on him. Not surprisingly, the Chicago-raised writer turned “Eastern liberal” (his description) expresses affinity and affection for such native Midwestern humorists as Kurt Vonnegut (whom he celebrates as a seminal influence) and Mark Twain, while his geometric analysis of a short story by fellow experimentalist Donald Barthelme provides insight into both Barthelme and Saunders. Especially revelatory is “Thank You, Esther Forbes,” in which Saunders details how his childhood reading of that author’s award-winning Johnny Tremain showed him how and why sentences matter. Yet things are never as straightforward as they seem with Saunders, and what this volume characterizes as “essays” is in fact a typically tricky mix from a writer who resists pigeonholing. Pieces such as “A Survey of the Literature,” “Ask the Optimist!,” “Woof: A Plea of Sorts” and the utopian closer, “Manifesto: A Press Release From PRKA” (kind of the prose equivalent of John Lennon’s “Imagine”), could have fit just as easily into one of his story collections. Longer, reported pieces such as “The Great Divider” (on border immigration issues) and “Buddha Boy” (on a seemingly miraculous meditator) display a profound empathy that resists knee-jerk response. Perhaps the most conventional essay here, and one of the most powerful, is the title piece that opens the collection. Saunders employs “The Braindead Megaphone” as a metaphor for mass media and shows how arguably talented, intelligent individuals have achieved a collective effect of dumbing down the national discourse.

Much smarter and more stimulating than the typical author’s clean-out-the-closet collection.

Pub Date: Sept. 4, 2007

ISBN: 978-1-59448-256-4

Page Count: 272

Publisher: Riverhead

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2007

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NUTCRACKER

This is not the Nutcracker sweet, as passed on by Tchaikovsky and Marius Petipa. No, this is the original Hoffmann tale of 1816, in which the froth of Christmas revelry occasionally parts to let the dark underside of childhood fantasies and fears peek through. The boundaries between dream and reality fade, just as Godfather Drosselmeier, the Nutcracker's creator, is seen as alternately sinister and jolly. And Italian artist Roberto Innocenti gives an errily realistic air to Marie's dreams, in richly detailed illustrations touched by a mysterious light. A beautiful version of this classic tale, which will captivate adults and children alike. (Nutcracker; $35.00; Oct. 28, 1996; 136 pp.; 0-15-100227-4)

Pub Date: Oct. 28, 1996

ISBN: 0-15-100227-4

Page Count: 136

Publisher: Harcourt

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 1996

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TO THE ONE I LOVE THE BEST

EPISODES FROM THE LIFE OF LADY MENDL (ELSIE DE WOLFE)

An extravaganza in Bemelmans' inimitable vein, but written almost dead pan, with sly, amusing, sometimes biting undertones, breaking through. For Bemelmans was "the man who came to cocktails". And his hostess was Lady Mendl (Elsie de Wolfe), arbiter of American decorating taste over a generation. Lady Mendl was an incredible person,- self-made in proper American tradition on the one hand, for she had been haunted by the poverty of her childhood, and the years of struggle up from its ugliness,- until she became synonymous with the exotic, exquisite, worshipper at beauty's whrine. Bemelmans draws a portrait in extremes, through apt descriptions, through hilarious anecdote, through surprisingly sympathetic and understanding bits of appreciation. The scene shifts from Hollywood to the home she loved the best in Versailles. One meets in passing a vast roster of famous figures of the international and artistic set. And always one feels Bemelmans, slightly offstage, observing, recording, commenting, illustrated.

Pub Date: Feb. 23, 1955

ISBN: 0670717797

Page Count: -

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: Oct. 25, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 1955

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