Friday, June 5, 2009

Book Review: The Braindead Megaphone

George Saunders: 3.5/5.0


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Some of this was great. His essays on Barthelme and Vonnegut and Twain made me want to immediately read or reread everything they ever wrote. I love pretty much everything about his fiction, which is heavily indebted to Vonnegut, a debt he recognizes, writing,

"I'd understood the function of art to be primarily descriptive: a book was a kind of scale model of life...Now I began to understand art as a kind of black box the reader enters. He enters in one state of mind and exits in another. The writer gets no points just because what's inside the box bear some linear resemblance to "real life"–he can put whatever he wants in there. What's important is that something undeniable and nontrivial happens to the reader between entry and exit"

The Braindead Megaphone is, unfortunately quite uneven. Saunders is at his best writing about literature or popular culture. When he discusses politics or religion, his writing betrays a surprising degree of naivete, too often ending in a 'but who are we to judge' type conclusion. In his long essay on Dubai (which is very entertaining), hie is appalled at the income discrepency between the haves and have nots, but is given pause by the fact that Dubai's have nots still have more than their equivalents in the rest of the Middle East. The poor in Dubai seem content with their lot in life, Saunders seems mollified by this, and I want him to agree that this is just as upsetting a scenario, that these people have been duped into being grateful for the table scraps they have been given. The same problems arise when he covers the Mexican-US border, and the 'Buddha Boy' in Katmandu.

Even when I am frustrated by his moral equivalency, Saunders is a tremendous writer who is consistently a pleasure to read

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