The characters filling Saunders's acclaimed debut, ,em>CivilWarLand in Bad Decline, have spawned a new crop of comic campers in these six stories, as the struggle among them to be happy and do the right thing continues.
With Pastoralia, his second collection of stories, George Saunders stakes his claim to the literary equivalent of [Richard] Pryor’s old title ...Saunders’s stories are populated and often narrated by sad sacks caught between the odd and false worlds of their workplaces and their real and horrendous family circumstances ...Saunders enjoys juxtaposing the euphemisms of corporate speak with the candidness of colloquial speech...will jam high and low idioms together within speeches for maximum contrast, fashioning a new tongue from old clichés and more recently coined buzzwords ...fast and furious, never simply whimsical or goofy, and he so successfully delivers his pitiful characters that the reader feels at bottom some gravity or emotional anchor, even when what’s happening is loopy ... As in Denis Johnson’s Jesus’ Son, there’s a damaged American heart at the center of Pastoralia, except it’s the reader who’s laughing so hard that it hurts.
Luckily, Saunders is good at the cynical one-liner, and most of the stories in Pastoralia do comment on reality. But do they take place there? No. And it all starts with a speculation on how to get through a crappy, and very science fictional, day job ... But of course the characters do talk. They talk a lot. And the problems they’re experiencing aren’t necessarily directly related to their plight in this absurd job. Primarily, their concerned about keeping the job, as management is constantly making veiled overtures that a 'remixing' will occur soon, resulting in many people being out of work ...hard to communicate here is what a unique prose stylist Saunders is ... If dark humor and humanistic stories about bizarre minutia are your thing, you’ll love the stories of Pastoralia.
Like Flannery O'Connor and Nathanael West, Saunders knows that you can mine the banal for humor. The darkest and most deviant (and, let's face it, most pathetic) plots of the greedy human heart are hatched on the 'Look, it's Andre' level, which is where they are also usually crossed ... There are six stories in this collection. Four of them are very good, and the other two are at least good — a success average that is highly unusual for a short-story collection ...Saunders stories are on such a high level is close to miraculous ... the harmonic structure of my sonic response to this book would be imaged, by the sound spectrogram, as an evenly spaced stack of short horizontal lines, with a fundamental frequency of about 260 hertz. In other words, I laughed my ass off.