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One of the best comic writers around
on 25 June 2009
This volume comprises the novella "The Brief and Frightening Reign of Phil" and the collection of short stories "In Persuasion Nation."
"The Brief and Frightening Reign of Phil" concerns a conflict between the States of Outer Horner and Inner Horner. The inhabitants of these states are never fully described but appear to be part mechanical, part biological.We are told that Phil's brain sits on a rack in his head, and has a tendency to fall out. Phil is the de facto, and later official, leader of the Outer Hornerites; although Phil is clearly of low intelligence,he uses his more assertive and domineering personality to incite hatred among his people against the Inner Hornerites, whose gentle nature and numerical inferiority make them easy targets. Phil's frequent misuse of language(e.g. "Arrest this invaderment") brings to mind a certain ex-US president. The story appears to be some manner of political allegory, a la Animal Farm.
"In Persuasion Nation" conists of 12 shorter stories. Some of the best include: "The Red Bow" about how a rabid dog bites a young girl, who dies, and how the community reacts;"Christmas", which reads like a biographical episode, different in tone from most of Saunders' stories; and "93990", about drug-testing on monkeys, which reads like a journalistic piece, perhaps it is, but it makes a powerful impact, in any case.Some of the funnier stories include "In Persuasion Nation" and "Commcomm". Many of the stories also ridicule the consumerist culture of modern society.
I came to this collection after being greatly impressed by another Saunders' collection "Pastoralia" (particularly the title story, one of the few things I have read that have made me laugh uncontrollably- a real classic). Overall, I liked this collection slightly less than "Pastoralia, but I still liked it. Slightly less funny, but still quite funny. The satirical element is more pronounced, but Saunders is always tender and empathetic, even to the characters he ridicules. It is not an oversimplification to say that the basic point of all Saunders' stories is: "Be nice to people(or animals)." With such a message the greatest danger is a descent into sentimentality, but Saunders only occasionally verges on this. Mostly, this is a very warm, readable and funny collection, and the satire contained therein is sharp and well-founded. I definitely plan on further acquainting myself with Saunders' work.