Who are your heroes? And how do you feel about meeting them? I saw George Saunders at a reading a couple of months ago, and immediately went on a crazy Saunders kick. (I’m sure he would cringe at the “hero” reference. He strikes me as a happy but really easygoing and unassuming guy. But what do I know? I only saw him for about an hour addressing a room of about 400 other people). I have been a fan for a while now, but seeing him in person inspired me. In Persuasion Nation was first on my list.
I enjoyed the whole collection of short stories, but my very favorite, of the book, and probably of all Saunders’ stories anywhere, was “Jon.” It’s a story about these two young kids, who fall in love (kind of), and they are very much children of our time (Abercrombie/MTV generation). Particularly outstanding is the way they speak, which I won’t attempt to copy here, but I laughed out loud numerous times at Saunders’ rendition of clipped, trendy, heavily commercial-influenced speech. There are elements of this in others of his stories, but nowhere does it shine like this. He seems to have a love/hate relationship with our media-saturated culture. I wanted to ask him about this at the reading, particularly about his feelings regarding what technology and social media have done to the way people communicate, including but not limited to reading and writing; but there was a big group, and not a lot of time. Next time.
Saunders can be an acquired taste. I’ve heard mixed reviews about the book’s namesake, the short story “In Persuasion Nation.” It was strange, but also speaks to our commercial/consumer-driven society, and I find that interesting to think about as well. Plus, what’s not to love about a story with an Eskimo father and a polar bear having a mental conversation about the stealing of Cheetos and what a “crock of shit” it is that the father has to drive an axe into the polar bear’s head day in and day out? Not for everyone, but hilarious if you can approach it from the right mindset.
In another story, he describes the feeling of “having some new recently met someone suddenly brighten upon seeing you.” Which tells me that despite what at first blush might come across as a cynical tone or a tendency towards the dark (see sometimes deranged), he is really a romantic at heart, enamored with life and human condition. He struck me as very content, which he would maybe also balk at, but that was my impression.
What “celebrities” think about the impressions and perceptions we project upon them a topic for another blog post. But this book was great, and I look forward to reading more of his stuff.