CivilWarLand in Bad Decline by George Saunders

★★★☆☆ (3/5)

The work that stirs the greatest passion is also the work that creates around it the greatest silence, the strongest imperative to stand back and admire and let others admire, without interfering

What a terrific collection of short stories in “CivilWarLand in Bad Decline”. George Saunders is a sober man’s Hunter S. Thompson. His stories are Mad Max and American Beauty combined. Sedate, insane, beautifully dystopian. A true sunken place.

“Think!” she shouts. “Extrapolate your daily actions one-million-fold. Ask yourself if the things you do make sense. Then walk out of that Babylon and join us.”

CivilWarLand in Bad Decline

★★☆☆☆ (2/5)

  • Then I think about my last degrading batch of résumés. Two hundred send-outs and no nibbles.
  • Grayson, Staff Ornithologist, has recently recalculated and estimates that to accurately approximate the 1865 bird population we’ll need to eliminate a couple hundred orioles or so. He suggests using air guns or poison
  • When I tell Mr. A he says: Garbage in, garbage out, and that we were idiots for expecting a milquetoast to save our rears
  • While I wait for her I sit on the hood and watch the stars. The Mr. watches them too. He says there are fewer than when he was a boy. He says that even the heavens have fallen into disrepair. I think about explaining smog to him but then Evelyn pulls up
  • When I get home they’re gone. Evelyn’s note says: I could never forgive you for putting our sons at risk. Goodbye forever, you passive flake
  • I’m madly framing calming words in my head as he drives the knife in. I can’t believe it. Never again to see my kids? Never again to sleep and wake to their liquid high voices and sweet breaths?


★★★★ (4/5)

  • Maintaining Boneless cost plenty. Split Lip’s main job was cop but on the side he sold water purifiers. When the neighborhood changed, the purifier business went belly-up. Split Lip said the niggers didn’t care what kind of poison they put in their bodies. Truth was, the purifiers were a scam
  • We ran to the train tracks and lay on our backs, sick in our guts as the guiltless stars wheeled by. After no dance would we look up at them happily now. Norris’s soul whizzed through the highgrass. Chills broke out on my arms.
  • So I got a little place of my own and moved her in with me. Now we’re pals. Family. It’s not perfect. Sometimes it’s damn hard. But I look after her and she squeals with delight when I come home, and the sum total of sadness in the world is less than it would have been

The Wavemaker Falters

★★★☆☆ (3/5)

  • Finally I get her out on the pine needles and she comes to and spits in my face and says I couldn’t possibly know the darkness of her heart. Try me, I say. She crawls away and starts bashing her skull against a tree trunk. The trees are synthetic too. But still
  • Poppet makes me sit with my eyes closed and repeat, “A boy is dead because of me,” for half an hour for fifty dollars. Then for another fifty dollars he makes me sit with my eyes closed again and repeat, “Still, I’m a person of considerable value,” for half an hour
  • and finally, having lost what was to be lost, my torn and black heart rebels, saying enough already, enough, this is as low as I go

The 400-Pound Ceo

★★★★ (4/5)

  • He says the raccoon must’ve had a sad last couple of minutes once it realized it had given up its life for the privilege of gnawing on a shank of pure fat. That hurts. Why I continue to expect decent treatment from someone who’s installed a torture chamber in the corporate basement is beyond me

Offloading for Mrs. Schwartz

★★★★ (4/5)

  • “I see,” she says. “Let’s talk briefly about personal tragedy. No one’s immune. But at what point must mourning cease? In your case, apparently never.” I think: You never saw Elizabeth lanky and tan and laughing in Napa.
  • I’m heartsick. What have I done? On the other hand, it stopped him from getting up and trying to kill me. On the other hand, it appears he left here a happier man, perhaps less inclined to felony
  • I call Briff and tell her no more modules. She ups her offer to three thousand a decade. She’s running for school board and says my modules are the primary arrow in her quiver. But what am I supposed to do? Turn Mrs. Schwartz into a well-cared-for blank slate? Start kidnapping and offloading strangers?

Downtrodden Mary’s Failed Campaign of Terror

★★☆☆☆ (2/5)

  • Just as I get my hands on my wings the supervising adult comes rushing up and says how dare I hamper the child’s self-esteem by being critical of her impulses?
  • A young girl gets extremely worked up on the honeymoon and the next thing she knows her new husband is scampering into the kitchen for a zucchini squash. Even through my crying he insisted, saying it would bring us closer together. Imagine the humiliation of being just eighteen and having to go to your family doctor with an infection difficult to explain. Finally he found it in a plant book. That you don’t live down.
  • In the plain blue day is my city, the city where I lived, the city that, in my own fashion, I loved. I remember when it was made entirely of wood, and men sold goods from carts, and this museum was a floodplain where we all picnicked


★★☆☆☆ (2/5)

  • Out there genetic purity is highly valued and Flaweds are generally considered subhuman trash, so things look bleak
  • At night Connie would sing me to sleep and tell me not to worry, because the real me was deep inside and safe. I love her dearly but in retrospect she had no idea what she was talking about. The real me was out there in tights, tripping the light fantastic for a bunch of soused rich vacationers. The real me was pining for my mother while showcasing my disability for a lousy buck
  • a closet radical feminist born without eyelids who’s always telling me about her secret plan to eventually slaughter some male Clients. For now she’s saving like crazy and biding her time. She gets revenge in small ways, like leaving bits of stem on Gleason’s grapes. Every time she does it she gives me a look
  • They’re calling us brothers and sisters and asking why we honor the very mind-set responsible for the world’s sorry state
  • Tonight he’s muttering optimistic slogans in his sleep and occasionally screaming out in abject terror
  • Revel in the fact that your dignity hasn’t yet been stripped away. Every minute that you’re not in absolute misery you should be weeping with gratitude and thanking God at the top of your lungs
  • The day he turned eighteen he left us a note: Mother, Dad, it said, I’m off to see the world. While he was gone the Thirteenth Amendment was repealed and the Slave Edict went into effect. A year later his body showed up on our doorstep in a wooden box. He looked ninety. A slaver in Alton, Illinois, had drugged him and sold him to an Idaho rancher
  • I can’t help but feel I was born in the wrong age. People then were giants, royalty, possessed of unimaginable largesse and unprecedented power to do good
  • Scrawny subsistence farmers gawk at us and walk away shaking their heads as our dust settles on the brims of their economy hats
  • Don’t think of yourself as a surrogate mule, think of yourself as an entrepreneur of the physical
  • The nation goes on forever. I never knew. When old people said plenty, bounty, lush harvests, I put it down to senile nostalgia. But here are miles and miles of fields and homes. Nice homes. Once it was one family per. Once the fields were thick with food. Now city men assigned residence by the government sit smoking in the yards as we pass, looking out with hate on the domain of hayseeds, and the land lies fallow.
  • Abandon the routines that conspire to force us into complacency
  • In keeping with my stated intentions, you will spend this evening in unpleasant solitude, thereby becoming further distanced from your true self and more amenable to my every whim
  • Is a lie told in the service of good still reprehensible?

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