George Saunders delivers an exhilarating row about the novel’s potential

George Saunders delivers an exhilarating row about the novel's potential

I make the book look disgustingly technical. it’s not like that. Saunders lives in synapses – he looks at all the subtle and meaningful decisions that produce a compelling sentence, paragraph, character. It offers one of the most accurate and beautiful images of what it’s like to be in the mind of the writer you’ve read – that state of intense vigilance, quick decisions.

The book may draw comparisons to Nabokov’s classic lectures on Russian literature, first delivered at Cornell. But in places where Nabokov is loud and scattered prose, presiding over his pulpit, Saunders is in your elbow, praising – a “kindhearted soldier”, addressing us.

I don’t think I’ve ever called a soldier. I’m not sure I like it.

Here’s where I have to admit that I can find myself in a kind of occasional episode about Saunders, torn between admiration and caution. The breadth of his belief in imagination is inspiring – and suspicious to the reader. He writes, “There is a vast underground network for good in business in the world.” “A network of people who put reading at the center of their lives because they know from experience that reading makes them more spacious and generous.”

Now, I’m just as pro-fictional as anyone else who cares about myself, but such an exaggeration does not favor form – at best, it feels gullible, at worst, hyper-indulgent. Is the invasion of Iraq understood as a “literary failure” as Saunders wrote? Can racism be described as an “anti-army motive”?

I suspect Saunders is too spiritually advanced to read his reviews. However, if he did, I imagine he might be elated. He might say, “Good little soldier.”

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There is no charge I have made here that Saunders did not direct himself. He said, “I’m kind of a rickety Pollyanna.” “I love to find hope, sometimes annoyingly:“ Oh, there’s a nail in my head. It’s cool, I’ll hang a coat on it, that’ll be fine. “

This is a kind of ambiguity in thinking that it represents, and this imagination, he tells us, makes it possible.

In Chekhov’s “Darling”, Saunders wrote that it seems the story asks us to judge the character, to ask, “Is this trait of her good or bad?” Chekhov replies, “Yes.”

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