2020 Is One Great Big George Saunders Story

2020 Is One Great Big George Saunders Story
Chris Jackson/PA via AP

We live in dystopian times. This seems undeniable as we’re locked down in a pandemic exacerbated by government ineptitude, corporate corruption and widespread disinformation. (If all that wasn’t enough, we also have murder hornets heading our way.) We should have been prepared for this after decades of dystopian works — 1984, The Hunger Games, Blade Runner, Terminator, etc. — but while these works led us to expect how dark and deadly our dystopia might be, none of them prepared us for how fundamentally dumb an American dystopia would be. Huxley can’t ready you for a reality TV president screaming in all caps on Twitter. Orwell doesn’t warn you of protesters in athleisure ware doing push-ups to demand gyms reopen during a global pandemic.

But there is one author who predicted these dumb and absurd times: George Saunders. 

The MacArthur “Genius” and Booker Prize-winning Saunders has been publishing darkly hilarious visions of America since the early 1990s. Zadie Smith has said “not since Twain has America produced a satirist this funny” while The New York Times noted “no one writes more powerfully than George Saunders about the lost, the unlucky, the disenfranchised.” Perhaps the archetypal Saunders story is “Sea Oak,” which follows a trod-upon worker at an aviation-themed male strip club called Joysticks: “Guests rank us as Knockout, Honeypie, Adequate, or Stinker. Not that I’m complaining. At least I’m working.” At home, his family lives in a dangerous neighborhood and anesthetizes themselves with reality TV shows like How My Child Died Violently while fantasizing about the American dream, summarized by one character as “you start out in a dangerous craphole and work hard so you can someday move up to a somewhat less dangerous craphole. And finally maybe you get a mansion.”

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