Monday, January 30, 2006

The Brief and Frightening Reign of Phil

Not on my list of top 20 books is any title by George Saunders. It's not through lack of effort, however. I alluded to borrowing The Brief and Frightening Reign of Phil from the Brooklyn Public Library in a post on December 19. I finally read the little bugger, not because it took that long (I started it on the train home on Friday and finished it this a.m.), but because I've been reading other stuff.

This is a wonderful, quick, little read. George Saunders rocks, and I recommend him to anyone who likes quirky, out-of-the-box fiction. He's not for everyone. He is the author of two short story collections, Pastoralia and Civilwarland in Bad Decline. It is safe to say that no one around is writing like this guy.

Here's a couple of quotes:

“An astoundingly tuned voice—graceful, dark, authentic, and funny—telling just the kinds of stories we need to get us through these times.”
–Thomas Pynchon

“Like the illegitimate offspring of Nathanael West and Kurt Vonnegut…Mr. Saunders’s satiric vision of America is dark and demented; it is also ferocious and very funny.”
–Michiko Kakutani, The New York Times

Ok, this book, novella, 130 small pages, is a morality tale with parallels to our world, but it is a strange place indeed. Here's what the book flap says:

Welcome to Inner Horner, a nation so small it can only accommodate one citizen at a time. The other six citizens must wait their turns in the Short-Term Residency Zone of the surrounding country of Outer Horner. It's a long-standing arrangement between the fantastical, not-exactly-human citizens of the two countries. But when Inner Horner suddenly shrinks, forcing three-quarters of the citizen then in residence over the border into Outer Horner territory, the Outer Hornerites declare an Invasion In Progress, having fallen under the spell of the power-hungry and demagogic Phil.

So begins The Brief and Frightening Reign of Phil. Fueled by Saunders' unrivaled wit, outlandish imagination, and incisive political sensibility, here is a deeply strange yet strangely familiar fable of power and impotence, justice and injustice, an Animal Farm for our times.

I'll let you all judge for yourselves. You can go to Inner Horner by visiting these sites: or Saunders' fansite here.

For an excerpt of the book, click here.

Saunders frequents The New Yorker, and his last story there can be read here. All I can tell you is that you will either love him or think he's a paper-waster. He may not be everyone's cup o' tea. But unless you try a new tea now and then, you'll never expand your horizons.

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