George Saunders back with a collection that explores ideas of power, ethics, and justice and cuts to the very heart of what it means to live in community with our fellow humans. With his trademark prose, Saunders continues to challenge and surprise: Here is a collection of prismatic, resonant stories that encompass joy and despair, oppression and revolution, bizarre fantasy and brutal reality.
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.