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CivilWarLand in Bad Decline (1996)

by George Saunders

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1,908737,498 (4.04)59
Since its publication in 1996, George Saunders's debut collection has grown in esteem from a cherished cult classic to a masterpiece of the form, inspiring an entire generation of writers along the way. In six stories and a novella, Saunders hatches an unforgettable cast of characters, each struggling to survive in an increasingly haywire world. With a new introduction by Joshua Ferris and a new author's note by Saunders himself, this edition is essential reading for those seeking to discover or revisit a virtuosic, disturbingly prescient voice.   Praise for George Saunders and CivilWarLand in Bad Decline   "It's no exaggeration to say that short story master George Saunders helped change the trajectory of American fiction."--The Wall Street Journal   "Saunders's satiric vision of America is dark and demented; it's also ferocious and very funny."--Michiko Kakutani, The New York Times   "George Saunders is a writer of arresting brilliance and originality, with a sure sense of his material and apparently inexhaustible resources of voice. [CivilWarLand in Bad Decline] is scary, hilarious, and unforgettable."--Tobias Wolff   "Saunders makes the all-but-impossible look effortless."--Jonathan Franzen   "Not since Twain has America produced a satirist this funny."--Zadie Smith   "An astoundingly tuned voice--graceful, dark, authentic, and funny--telling just the kinds of stories we need to get us through these times."--Thomas Pynchon… (more)
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Showing 1-5 of 71 (next | show all)
A collection of stories and a novella, Bounty, that are roughly linked in that they seem to take place in the same depressing near-future dystopia. They make for good if maudlin reading, as very little that would pass for happiness makes an appearance. These are tales of sad, broken, weak people suffering at the hands of the vile and moronic. It's as if someone took the paintings of Hieronymus Bosch and thought - what would that look like in the twenty-first century? ( )
  soylentgreen23 | Aug 11, 2022 |
Maybe I've softened in my growing years-- I used to gobble up the weird and macabre. But the Me Of Today is growing tired of the cynicism (I have a healthy, natural supply for myself already, I don't need any more external sources, thank you.)

George is of course, a terrific writer. He is obviously one of today's most effective satirists. But I prefer my satire to come with an airy playfulness. Like a Sedaris or Adams. Those on the darker side with Saunders, like Vonnegut and Palahniuk don't really click with me, anymore.

The stories in this collection all had the same drumbeat of a negative, sepia-toned umami, mixed with the grimy texture of a Terry Gilliam film. Again, the art is there, I recognize it-- It just wasn't for me.
( )
  Chuck_ep | Jul 18, 2022 |
In CivilWarLand in bad decline, George Saunders gives us six short stories and a novella. These are all rather dark stories, and as a criticism I would say the writing tends to get a little too one-note, with the recurring theme of working in lousy jobs, those that use high-tech but in ways that are dehumanizing, for horrible bosses. The writing is fantastic though, and the blend of humor with criticisms of humanity is compelling. Nowhere is it more successful than in the novella, Bounty, which imagines a dystopian America in which people with physical flaws are enslaved. Capitalism taken to excess, armed militia groups roaming the land, ecological hazards, and the depraved exploitation of the weak – it’s all here, and haunting in how close to the present day it seems.

Just this quote, on God, from The 400-Pound CEO:
“Maybe the God we see, the God who calls the daily shots, is merely a subGod. Maybe there’s a God above this subGod, who’s busy for a few Godminutes with something else, and will be right back, and when he gets back will take the subGod by the ear and say, ‘Now look. Look at that fat man. What did he ever do to you? Wasn’t he humble enough? Didn’t he endure enough abuse for a thousand men? Weren’t the simplest tasks hard? Didn’t you sense him craving affection? Were you unaware that his days unraveled as one long bad dream?’ And maybe as the subGod slinks away, the true God will sweep me up in his arms saying: My sincere apologies, a mistake has been made. Accept a new birth, as token of my esteem.” ( )
1 vote gbill | May 1, 2022 |
I hated it but I think only because life really is as gross as Saunders depicts despite it seeming like satire. ( )
  mayalekach | Sep 25, 2021 |
It's about time I started the Saunders stories, so thought I'd begin at the beginning. Wow, these are darker than I thought they would be? For some reason when I heard about the amusement parks I figured they'd be more whimsical. But these stories are frantic, full of detail, deranged, jumping from one thing to the next, rushing, dark but hilarious and full of heart. So many ghosts! So many odd characters with odd jobs -- Saunders should write for the most bizarre sitcoms ever. My problem with most short stories is that if I love them, I wish they were full novels, so they could be even longer and detailed. However, upon getting to the miserable heartbreaking novella 'Bounty' at the end, almost a hundred pages long and reintroducing slavery of genetic mutants into a future America, I then realized that maybe these are short stories for a reason and some misery is too much misery. But then I also liked the explanation of this in the afterword. Don't skip the afterword. I can see so many writers like him now. Then I realized that this was 1996 and came before many of the writers I am putting in the same boat. Saunders may have invented this style. ( )
  booklove2 | Jun 15, 2021 |
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Mom, Dad, Nancy, and Jane

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Paula, Caitlin, and Alena

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Whenever a potential big investor comes for the tour the first thing I do is take him out to the transplanted Erie Canal Lock.
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Since its publication in 1996, George Saunders's debut collection has grown in esteem from a cherished cult classic to a masterpiece of the form, inspiring an entire generation of writers along the way. In six stories and a novella, Saunders hatches an unforgettable cast of characters, each struggling to survive in an increasingly haywire world. With a new introduction by Joshua Ferris and a new author's note by Saunders himself, this edition is essential reading for those seeking to discover or revisit a virtuosic, disturbingly prescient voice.   Praise for George Saunders and CivilWarLand in Bad Decline   "It's no exaggeration to say that short story master George Saunders helped change the trajectory of American fiction."--The Wall Street Journal   "Saunders's satiric vision of America is dark and demented; it's also ferocious and very funny."--Michiko Kakutani, The New York Times   "George Saunders is a writer of arresting brilliance and originality, with a sure sense of his material and apparently inexhaustible resources of voice. [CivilWarLand in Bad Decline] is scary, hilarious, and unforgettable."--Tobias Wolff   "Saunders makes the all-but-impossible look effortless."--Jonathan Franzen   "Not since Twain has America produced a satirist this funny."--Zadie Smith   "An astoundingly tuned voice--graceful, dark, authentic, and funny--telling just the kinds of stories we need to get us through these times."--Thomas Pynchon

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