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Kill the tuna can

Christopher Tayler: George Saunders

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

Rescue us, writer

Christian Lorentzen: George Saunders

7 February 2013
Tenth of December 
by George Saunders.
Bloomsbury, 251 pp., £14.99, January 2013, 978 1 4088 3734 4
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... for $8600 in ‘replacement debit’ to the landscape company, and the children subject to felony charges. So goes ‘The Semplica Girl Diaries’, the longest and most engrossing of the stories in GeorgeSaunders’s fourth collection, Tenth of December. Eight of the book’s ten stories revolve around rescue scenarios. (The two brief pieces that don’t – ‘Sticks’, from 1995, a two-page sketch ...

Showers of Hats

Robert Baird: ‘Lincoln in the Bardo’

29 March 2017
Lincoln in the Bardo 
by George Saunders.
Bloomsbury, 343 pp., £18.99, March 2017, 978 1 4088 7174 4
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... GeorgeSaunders​ has long had a thing for ghosts, especially ghosts who haven’t figured out that they’re dead. The title story of his first collection, CivilWarLand in Bad Decline (1996), concerned a down-on ...

Ferrets can be gods

Katherine Rundell

10 August 2016
Gabriel-Ernest and Other Tales 
by Saki and Quentin Blake.
Alma Classics, 156 pp., £6.99, October 2015, 978 1 84749 592 1
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... King of Sweden.’ The work in Coward’s quips is audible; in Saki’s it is undetectable. As with Donne, Nabokov and Spark, the mechanisms of wit are unseen and so inimitable. Of living writers, GeorgeSaunders is the one whose stories most evoke Saki’s clear-eyed surrealism. Both thrive on the question of class; where Saki has landowners eaten by wolves, Saunders imagines third-world women ...

Smash the Screen

Hal Foster: ‘Duty Free Art’

5 April 2018
Duty Free Art: Art in the Age of Planetary Civil War 
by Hito Steyerl.
Verso, 256 pp., £16.99, October 2017, 978 1 78663 243 2
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... done well to inject important briefs on art, culture and politics into the general logorrhoea of the web. But it is difficult enough to pass through the murky reason of alienated language in fiction (GeorgeSaunders and a few others notwithstanding); it is far harder to do so in criticism. Steyerl views almost everything symptomatically, which permits us to attempt the same with her work. Ultimately ...
30 September 1999
Who Paid the Piper? The CIA and the Cultural Cold War 
by Frances Stonor Saunders.
Granta, 509 pp., £20, July 1999, 1 86207 029 6
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... about covert counter-insurgency in every form, from secretly underwritten academic research to assassinations and mass killings. Yet it still gives me an eerie feeling to read about people like George Orwell, Stephen Spender and Raymond Aron, to say nothing of less admirable characters of the Melvin Lasky stripe, taking part in surreptitiously subsidised anti-Communist ventures – magazines ...

Grandiose Moments

Frank Kermode

6 February 1997
Ford Madox Ford: A Dual Life, Vol. II 
by Max Saunders.
Oxford, 696 pp., £35, September 1996, 0 19 212608 3
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... Ford Madox Ford, an appealingly talented and gossipy subject, has naturally attracted biographers. In 1971 Arthur Mizener’s The Saddest Story seemed adequately exhaustive, but now Max Saunders comes along with two vast volumes, even more thorough and more than doubling the page count. Alan Judd, faithful to Ford’s own lack of respect for academic pieties, brought out his footnoteless but ...

Unfair to Stalin

Robert Service

17 March 1988
Perestroika: New Thinking for Our Country and the World 
by Mikhail Gorbachev.
Collins, 254 pp., £12.95, November 1987, 0 00 215660 1
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The Birth of Stalinism: The USSR on the Eve of the ‘Second Revolution’ 
by Michal Reiman, translated by George Saunders.
Tauris, 188 pp., £24.50, November 1987, 1 85043 066 7
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Stalin in October: The Man who Missed the Revolution 
by Robert Slusser.
Johns Hopkins, 281 pp., £20.25, December 1987, 0 8018 3457 0
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... Since 1956 it has been official policy in the USSR to criticise the abuses of power by Joseph Stalin in the period of the so-called Cult of the Individual. It is a widely-held misconception in the West that such criticism ended in the Brezhnev years. In fact, party textbooks continued to castigate Stalin. The negative comments became less specific, however, and many people who weren’t old enough ...

What’s wrong with that man?

Christian Lorentzen: Donald Antrim

20 November 2014
The Emerald Light in the Air: Stories 
by Donald Antrim.
Granta, 158 pp., £12.99, November 2014, 978 1 84708 649 5
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... Air, which collects stories that have appeared in the New Yorker since 1999. He’s invariably linked with a group of US fiction writers around his age that includes the late David Foster Wallace, GeorgeSaunders, Jonathan Franzen and Jeffrey Eugenides. There are a few things that set Antrim apart: he’s Southern; his strongest affinity to a writer in the previous generation is to Donald Barthelme ...

Deny and Imply

J. Robert Lennon: Gary Shteyngart

16 December 2010
Super Sad True Love Story 
by Gary Shteyngart.
Granta, 331 pp., £12.99, September 2010, 978 1 84708 103 2
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... with their mad ideas that turn out to be right. David Foster Wallace gave us protagonists who shunned the physical world in favour of the knottier, more intractable challenges of the mind; GeorgeSaunders offers comic heroes who fail excellently. Turn the book over, lift up the flap. We don’t look too bad in black and white, do we, our hair artfully mussed, our beards half-grown, our eyeglasses ...

I did not pan out

Christian Lorentzen: Sam Lipsyte

6 June 2019
Hark 
by Sam Lipsyte.
Granta, 304 pp., £12.99, March, 978 1 78378 321 2
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... to self-help, therapy and the rhetoric that goes with them. David Foster Wallace, whose fiction drew on his experience in Alcoholics Anonymous, was outed as a reader of self-help after his death. GeorgeSaunders has called fiction ‘a kind of compassion-generating machine that saves us from sloth’. Both writers delivered college commencement addresses that were then marketed as inspirational ...

Degeneration Gap

Andreas Huyssen: Cold War culture conflicts

7 October 2004
The Dancer Defects: The Struggle for Cultural Supremacy during the Cold War 
by David Caute.
Oxford, 788 pp., £30, September 2003, 0 19 924908 3
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... for those who are happy to give all the credit to Ronald Reagan or the pope. Concerning its origins, it is no longer enough either to blame totalitarianism or to demonise the Truman doctrine and George Kennan’s strategy of ‘containment’. More objectionable still are the parallels drawn by Donald Rumsfeld and Condoleezza Rice between the Cold War democratisation of West Germany and Japan and ...

Gaol Fever

David Saunders-Wilson

24 July 1986
Prisons and the Process of Justice 
by Andrew Rutherford.
Oxford, 217 pp., £5.95, June 1986, 0 19 281932 1
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Growing out of Crime: Society and Young People in Trouble 
by Andrew Rutherford.
Penguin, 189 pp., £3.95, January 1986, 0 14 022383 5
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... commonly regarded as harmless, comic, lovable folk heroes, who can be forgiven even if they do sometimes wander onto the wrong side of the law, and get in trouble with ‘the Bill’. Indeed, both George Cole and Dennis Waterman in their Minder roles are now thought suitable characters to help encourage young people to stay off drugs in a series of commercials sponsored by the DHSS. The thought of ...

A Shark Swims through It

Lidija Haas: A Talent for Nonchalance

8 March 2018
A Grace Paley Reader: Stories, Essays and Poetry 
edited by Kevin Bowen and Nora Paley.
Farrar, Straus, 371 pp., $27, October 2017, 978 0 374 16582 6
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... recognise the achievements of a generation of activists who stood up in the causes of civil rights, social justice, non-violence and peace, often putting their bodies on the line’. In his preface GeorgeSaunders, though he stays in his corner by focusing mostly on the fiction, suggests that reading Paley will spark ‘a revived concern for other people’s suffering’ and ends by recommending her ...

Au revoir et merci

Christopher Tayler: Romain Gary

6 December 2018
The Roots of Heaven 
by Romain Gary, translated by Jonathan Griffin.
Godine, 434 pp., $18.95, November 2018, 978 1 56792 626 2
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Promise at Dawn 
by Romain Gary, translated by John Markham Beach.
Penguin, 314 pp., £9.99, September 2018, 978 0 241 34763 8
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... shading into comically inexpert narration, à la Gogol – became Ajar’s central gimmick: his narrators used a jumbled, malaprop French that served as a vehicle for pathos as well as humour. (GeorgeSaunders might be the best current analogue in English.) Gary let his own publisher in on the secret but the rest of the firm was kept in the dark. Raymond Queneau, passing Ajar’s first novel to a ...

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