I have been wanting to read Saunders for a long time, and CivilWarLand in Bad Decline made me wonder what I had been waiting for. Some thoughts:
- A colleague at another university made a joke about Pynchon novels, something about no one ever finishing them. The joke confused me – this person is a fellow academic (and someone who I assume reads a lot), and I couldn’t help but think, well, shit, I have finished several Pynchon novels. I guess the desire for clear moral lessons and the ability to determine who is the great American novelist wins out?
- His chapter about his career was fascinating, because he talks about how trying to write like Hemingway crushed him. He sucked as a writer, couldn’t get anything published, and the process felt miserable. When he turned to the style of writing in this collection, he said he felt liberated, and that writing was fun, and that he had ideas. These are all good things.
- The fascination with theme parks as a representation of American culture is inspired, and the types of theme parks he creates, in which working class heroes barely hang on by performing increasingly degrading labor in these insane places.
- His protagonists know that increasingly things are going bad, but they have enough innate goodness and belief in the American dream that they keep blaming themselves for the problems in their lives.
- Outside, the larger culture blames others – the novella features a character who has mutated and is labelled as Flawed, and he is constantly persecuted, put into slavery, and made to realize that he is not the master of his own destiny.
- I thoroughly enjoyed this collection…