Sunday, January 03, 2010

Nasty, Brutish, and Short

I recently finished reading George Saunders' The Brief and Frightening Reign of Phil. I actually read it twice, once over the span of a couple of weeks and again on a flight (it's only about 130 pages long, some of which are illustrations).

It's hard to not read the story as an allegorical critique of American foreign policy. The first time I read the story, that's about all I got out of it and I found it rather obvious and dull. The second time I read the story, I was able to put politics aside and get into the story on a more personal level. More of Saunders' trademark wit and absurdity came through when I spent more time focusing on the characters (a bizarre assortment of humanoid robots) than trying to match each one to an historical figure (the book's jacket does it no favors by proclaiming it "an Animal Farm for our times").

I was disappointed by the ending at first, but after reading it again, I found it incredibly poignant. In Persuasion Nation, a collection of short stories, is the only other work of Saunders that I've read. What impressed me most about that book was how he was able to make such witty, insightful, and devastating observations about humanity in a handful of paragraphs. The Brief and Frightening Reign of Phil, while short, is not a short story, but the ending really demonstrates Saunders' ability to cover a lot of ground in a few pages though his efficient but memorable use of prose.

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