Kill the tuna can

Christopher Tayler

  • The Brief and Frightening Reign of Phil and In Persuasion Nation by George Saunders
    Bloomsbury, 358 pp, £10.99, June 2006, ISBN 0 7475 8221 1

George Saunders – whose semi-official website carries a reminder that the man who played Addison DeWitt in All about Eve was called George SANDERS – was born in Chicago in 1958. A schoolteacher got him interested in literature, but having been exposed at an impressionable age to the novels of Ayn Rand he ended up studying geophysical engineering: ‘I didn’t want to be one of those life-sucking parasitic artists,’ he recalled last year. During the 1980s he worked for an oil company in Sumatra and did various dead-end jobs before finding his vocation and winning a place at Syracuse University, where he studied creative writing under the auspices of Doug Unger and Tobias Wolff. After finishing the course, he worked as a technical writer and environmental engineer until 1996, when he published his first short-story collection, CivilWarLand in Bad Decline. This was praised by Thomas Pynchon as well as Wolff, and since then Saunders has been about as successful as a scrupulous writer of offbeat stories can be. He has returned to the writing-school circuit as a teacher and collected numerous National Magazine and O. Henry Awards. Each story in his second collection, Pastoralia (2000), was first published in the New Yorker.

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