THE BRIEF AND FRIGHTENING REIGN OF PHIL by George Saunders
Kirkus Star

THE BRIEF AND FRIGHTENING REIGN OF PHIL

KIRKUS REVIEW

With an absurdist wit as playful as Monty Python’s and a vision as dark as Samuel Beckett’s, a post-modernist spins a provocative parable of political power and its abuses.

This novella from Saunders (Pastoralia, stories, 2000, etc.) concerns the tensions between two countries, Inner Horner and Outer Horner. Inner Horner is the smallest country imaginable, so small that only one of its seven inhabitants can fit within its borders at a time. Then it inexplicably gets even smaller, making it impossible for Inner Hornerites to avoid “invading” the boundaries of the surrounding and more prosperous Outer Horner. Because their country is larger and has greater resources, the Outer Hornerites feel that they are favored by God, and that the fate of the Inner Hornerites reflects their innate inferiority. Citizens in this society are some combination of plant and machine; Outer Horner’s president has multiple mustaches and chins (and three legs); and the media are mindlessly inept, parroting what they’re told, distorting what they see. (Maybe this isn’t so different after all.) As an Outer Hornerite pursuing a personal agenda against Inner Horner, a bitter citizen named Phil seizes power from the apparently senile president and bends the political apparatus of his country to his will. He imposes an onerous tax on the citizens of Inner Horner whenever they enter Outer Horner (where at least some of their body parts invariably intrude), thus turning victims into criminals. He then convinces his fellow citizens that those criminals are the embodiment of an absolute evil that must be exterminated. Tightly packed with detail, dialogue and black humor, the fairy tale narrative resolves itself in a manner that breathes fresh life into the Latin term deus ex machina (“god from the machine”).

For those who appreciate speculative, experimental fiction, a mind-bending work inviting readers to ponder the nature of parable and the possibilities of language.

Pub Date: Sept. 20th, 2005
ISBN: 1-59448-152-0
Page count: 128pp
Publisher: Riverhead
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15th, 2005




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