Saunders’s career-long strategies have acquired a deeper intensity, focus and bite. He’s always been a moralist, concerned with our obligations to one another; now, an ongoing and intense debate over democracy and its threats has further exposed that ... Though in many ways the new collection is typical Saunders, it also speaks more directly to our current moment ... These set pieces are easily read as Trump-era allegories, and occasionally Saunders can be overly on the nose about that ... Saunders has long tended to approach matters of power, ethics and compassion more indirectly and universally, and with better jokes, too. Liberation Day is different only in that the humor is a little blacker, the fears of our exploitation more intense ... Saunders loves to parody legal language, thick with appositive commas and capitalized terms, because he understands how that junk works at cross-purposes — it’s rigidly precise but designed mainly to cover things up. Liberation Day has various stories intentionally fogged with lingo, until the truth of the predicament becomes clear ... 2022 has made his precision more meaningful, the stakes higher.
... it seems that nearly a decade later, Saunders is no longer so sure about the possibility of transformative heroism or resistance, or what that might even mean. The prevailing mood throughout is much more muted and uncertain, with a concomitant diminution in linguistic vivacity. The language the characters speak and think in is flatter, deader, at once more anodyne and anguished ... Saunders has tasked himself with treading a fine line in these stories: How to depict the incapacitating malaise of despair without succumbing to it? He does not always completely succeed ... Here, as in one or two other stories, it feels as if the setup and the characters interest Saunders less than the opportunity to wallow in moral conundrums and impasses of conscience ... a spiky, at times difficult collection, seldom providing the reader with much in the way of catharsis. But these are stories worth reading, the best of them as thought-provoking and resonant as a fan of Saunders might expect. Eschewing the speculatively richer, more dramatic question of what happens after the system comes crashing down, Saunders focuses instead on the queasy, knotty consequences of our present dilemma: What if it doesn’t?
Acutely relevant ... Let’s bask in this new collection of short stories, which is how many of us first discovered him and where he excels like no other ... Saunders’ imaginative capacity is on full display ... Liberation Day carries echoes of Saunders’ previous work, but the ideas in this collection are more complex and nuanced, perhaps reflecting the new complexities of this brave new world of ours. The title story is only one of a handful of the nine stories in this collection that show us our collective and personal dilemmas, but in reading the problems so expressed — with compassion and humanity — our spirits are raised and perhaps healed. Part of the Saunders elixir is that we feel more empathetic after reading his work.
... brazenly piles on [Saunders'] trademark techniques: fantastical carnivals, snappy marketing slogans, heart-weary characters, and an unerring ear for prose rhythms ... ess jaunty, more dispirited, as Saunders broods over these disunited states. While lurking along the margins of the public square, he yearns for something, anything, beyond the schisms of red and blue, but fears he’s peering into a dark void in which all colors fade to black ... an MRI of our body politic, with Saunders scrupulously analyzing the films, seeking an optimistic prognosis amid a crush of tumors. He’s hopeful because he’s Saunders. And yet the evidence points, grimly, in the opposite direction; we’ve lost the ability to empathize, if we ever had it.
There may be no more moral writer working right now than George Saunders – and no writer who makes you want to try harder to be a better human ... His trademark brainy humanism ... Saunders bends form and voice to put readers in the hearts of characters bloodied to pulp in the meat grinder of society, creating empathy for the lowliest funhouse ghouls as they try and fail and try again to love in a world broken by fascism, climate change and wealth inequality ... Saunders...holds up a light for us in the darkness.
... the settings on the supercollider feel just off this time. The standard of Saunders’ writing remains astronomically high, but there are slippages suddenly ... It’s a fine piece of writing, but in context it seems detached from the narration, as if the author’s moral preoccupations have begun to precede his writerly concerns ... Perhaps Saunders is in part the victim of his own influence; all of the previously published stories here appeared in the New Yorker, and sometimes they feel like every New Yorker story does now: confident, current, sad. And it’s worth restating that even a bad Saunders story is good in so many ways: All nine in this ultra-readable book contain pulses of wit and beauty, superb unexpected lines, sudden laughs...in two of them he reaches the heights of his previous fiction ... But the rest of Liberation Day is less powerful, as if the convulsive quality that makes art great has diminished. Instead, there are a great deal of tender and extremely well-written passages about how hard life is. And of course, life is hard, horrifying and hard, and Saunders is justified in continually pursuing that subject to its roots. It turns out, I think, that the saintliness is real ... The trouble is that morality and art famously have nothing to do with each other. As in his earlier work, Saunders’ relentlessly humane vision of life, always in comic search of our deepest negations of each other, is remarkably vivid. But his innovations as an artist have waned into repetitions; and genius is an erratic visitor.
[Saunders] he wields the 'moral-ethical tool' of fiction with more directness and efficiency than ever before ... Each story has been skillfully shaped into a moral parable touching on problems of loyalty, obedience, justice, sacrifice and kindness ... It can be hard to remember, reading Liberation Day, just how wildly angry and caustic Mr. Saunders could be in his early collections...Here he introduced his much-imitated stylistic trademarks—shabby dystopian settings; weird, jargon-inflected speech patterns; hapless everyman underdogs—in stories that blend despair with hilarity. These stories have deep moral concerns, as well, but they are so bizarre and unruly that you don’t notice any lesson unfolding ... This signature strangeness is still present in Liberation Day, but in a far more orderly fashion, since the stories have been pared down to the terms of whatever philosophical problem they embody. Insanity is no longer intrinsic to the composition of the writing; it’s an element that can be analyzed, empathized with and ultimately mastered. If this makes the collection irreproachable—few would dispute that Mr. Saunders uses the tool of fiction with exceptional assurance and to laudable ends—it also makes it a touch boring. These stories occupy a plane of existence that all but transcends surprise and innovation.
Writers to admire queue up on the back cover of George Saunders’s new book in an earnest arms race of praise ... Do the nine, often wonderfully absurd, short stories within live up to this billing? Well, you might say, yes and no ... Once he has hooked you with that lightness, you notice Saunders leading you sentence by sentence into places you hadn’t expected. As a writer he never lets you lose the sense that while the short story is a place of uncanny make-believe, so is that voice in every mind that constructs the world in front of it, instant by instant ... These stories are not only perfectly pitched; they come with enough comedy to have you grinning and enough empathy to suddenly stop you in your tracks .
If you’re new to George Saunders, then in Liberation Day: Stories, his first collection of stories since 2013, a weird world of eccentricity and meticulous chaos awaits ... On the other hand, if you’ve read his previous collections, then some of the work here sounds like self-parody ... The best stories come when Saunders deviates from his formula ... Saunders excels at this sort of compressed language ... Because of Saunders’s pithy style, we know his people better in 12 pages than we do many characters in novels ... The downside of this ultra-precise use of language is that in describing the stories, even quoting them, we lose something valuable. That in itself is a measure of great writing. The only way to experience Saunders’s oblique, farcical, tragic world is to dive right in. It will take the top of your head off, but it’s worth it.
George Saunders is back with a new collection of short stories that feature his usual dystopian worlds and heartland characters whose lives and language have been fractured by social and economic pressures they barely understand ... Saunders’ outrage runs deep, and at least a couple of them...can be read as parables of our current political situation.
Both tragic and lighthearted ... Saunders invents these joke prisons in order to remind the reader of the various prisons – economic, psychological and spiritual – which we build for ourselves ... It’s as if the characters are making their lives up as they go along. Many are talking to themselves, their cadences running close to internal chatter, that repetitive self‑talking monologue that can be hard to shake out of your head ... These stories are not afraid of plot. Much of the pleasure of reading them comes from watching Saunders take an outrageous premise and resolve it by the rules of old-fashioned fiction in a bravura, high-wire act ... [A] fusion of spirituality and patriotism makes Liberation Day a unique read. Saunders is funny and kind as ever, and his narrative virtuosity puts him up there with the best.
It will surprise few readers of contemporary fiction to learn that George Saunders’ new collection of short stories, Liberation Day, is very good indeed ... Once one has established that Liberation Day is as good as one would expect (it is), and that it only strengthens Saunders’ position as a major contemporary writer (it does), one must consider how it intervenes in current debates and what it contributes. It is a compelling, witty book but it is not just entertainment; there is a considerable amount at stake in its inventiveness, its dexterity, and its skillful use of the fantastic. Political in the broad sense, it not only demands that we explore the relationships between individual moral failings and social injustice, but also exposes the acts of evasion, rationalization, complicity, and plain cowardice that enable us to avoid this. One of the most important functions of art is to challenge the comforting illusions we live by, which are too often not only unquestioned but unnoticed. Literature disrupts what we think we know, insisting on complexity, ambiguity, nuance. Liberation Day is a pleasure, but—like all the best books—an unsettling one, denying its readers simple consolations ... s particularly attentive to the use of social and economic conventions to legitimize injustice ... insists on the importance of recognizing the consequences of one’s actions, on a commitment to the truth, however uncomfortable ... uncompromising but not despairing. A book for our troubled times, it is a major achievement by a major author.
... a spiritual successor to Saunders’s last collection...At first, it doesn’t seem to progress much beyond those stories. Being something of a desk guy, Saunders works from templates...It’s been a while since we had a writer so widely revered who has such a limited range, though it sometimes jumps high above itself ... It’s always fun when he allows sex in his stories, though admittedly you are sitting there waiting for someone to have a heart event. Which she duly does, but then her hands are glowing red and little beings are thronging round her and he is back in his element: the body going to pieces, the place where things get strange.
To say too much about the trajectory of the story ['Liberation Day'] would spoil Saunders’ originality, his artful world-building and linguistic flourishes, but rest assured that he creates a grotesquely believable future ... Four out of the nine stories in Saunders’ collection imagine new worlds, not too far from the present, all of them depressingly worse, yet searingly readable in their ingenuity and humanity ... His ability to move so fluidly between perspectives is one of the trademarks of his writing.
I prefer Saunders’s own modest account of his career: 'The focus of my artistic life has been trying to learn to write emotionally moving stories that a reader feels compelled to finish' ... Mission accomplished as far as his new book is concerned: the nine stories in Liberation Day are by turn exhilarating, sad, mind-bendingly bizarre and wickedly funny. All are stamped with Saunders’s quirky, profoundly moral sensibility, and his fury at repression and coercion.
Saunders sticks to his guns as he matches practice to theory. Or at least he does up to a point – because, especially in the stories set in his contemporary America, he can’t always hide his sympathy for people at the bottom of the social heap, or his distaste for those who feel themselves entitled ... Liberation Day is great art ... Immensely readable ... Saunders never denies us the solid satisfactions of plot, jokes, character, pacing and lovely phrasemaking.
These nine stories are startling. They are dark, spiky, sad and imbued at times with a dark humour. They explore class, power and morality in near-future dystopias (and to be frank, some of them are current dystopias). As a reader you are never comfortable, but you are kind of complicit ... Each story, to some degree, exposes human pettiness and weakness, highlighting power imbalances and the fragility of our ecosystem.
Classic Saunders: the comedy wrung out of clunky jargon and wonky syntax, the blend of high and low registers, the revelation of a peculiar world by means of a peculiar voice ... [Some stories] are psychologically deeper and emotionally richer than anything Saunders has previously written. It is also less funny, less strange and less distinctive – more 'classic'. He is close to having come full circle.
Inimitable ... Serving to enhance his status as a contemporary master of the form ... Saunders has a fondness for challenging readers by dropping them into an alien environment and then patiently revealing details that bring a hazy picture into sharp focus, gradually making it all feel uncomfortably familiar.
Reading these tales is like unwrapping a package, removing one layer only to find another underneath, accumulating clues about the rules of the story’s twisted culture ... Saunders has a way of putting us so unabashedly in his characters’ heads that we can’t help but see ourselves (or someone we know) in even the strangest folk ... Good news for fans of this quirky, wholly original author. These stories will make you laugh; they will challenge, disturb and stay with you. This book will go on my shelf alongside his others, to be experienced again.
There is a similar nastiness to them. The arc never ends in a catch, but a kick in the particulars. Saunders is not a realist, even when he is writing about reality. The title story exemplifies his amplified reality. It challenges the reader to decode what is going on ... That elision of saying something and then contradicting it typified the stories...It is, I grant you, effective; but is a bit like a magic trick. Once you have figured out how the trick is done, the magic evaporates ... the strangest thing is that when Saunders is not determined to demonstrate how many rabbits he can pull out of a hat, he is a very affecting and sensitive writer ... There is a lot here to admire, and even to unpick and put back together, and there is a humaneness that we all require. It seems, nevertheless, a rather thin work, and with too much about storytelling around the stories.
... peak Saunders, which is to say that his asymptotic trajectory towards complete George Saundersness continues. Readers who love what he does with the short story will love this. Readers less enchanted with his tics and tropes may not be won over ... These stories appear to arise from Saunders channelling one or more voices and then letting them decide where things will go. The dislocation and disembodiment help defer judgment and steers towards polysemy, ambiguity ... Saunders is masterful, he illuminates with a fierce flame, and this book will delight his devotees.
... inventive, provocative, difficult, interesting, and annoying. Saunders does not make it easy for his reader to grasp the nub of his stories due to misdirection and inadequate language ... The book is worth it for this story alone. The reader only wishes the artifice had been pared back or used in some fashion to amplify the tragedy of Custer and the Sioux ... With the exception of the first tale, the stories in this collection seem to be experiments in style or in strange worlds that that author might have easily set aside as 'Not quite there yet.'
Boldly imagined tales are catalyzed by outright and insidious assaults on our most basic rights, including freedom of mind ... Saunders is also caustically funny, mischievously romantic, and profoundly compassionate, and each of these flawless fables inspires reflection on the fragility of freedom and the valor of the human spirit.
A wide-ranging collection that alternates his familiar fun house of warped simulations with subtler dramas ... Saunders’s four previous collections shook the earth a bit harder, but he continues to humanize those whom society has worn down to a nub. Despite the author’s shift to quieter character studies, there’s plenty to satisfy longtime devotees.
What can't George Saunders do? ... Saunders has revealed himself to be nothing less than an American Gogol: funny, pointed, full of nuance, and always writing with a moral heart. This, his first book of short fiction in nearly a decade, only cements the validity of such a point of view. The nine pieces here are smart and funny, speculative yet at the same time written on a human scale, narratives full of love and loss and longing and the necessity of trying to connect ... A tour de force collection that showcases all of Saunders’ many skills.