George Saunders Conducts a Cheery Class on Fiction’s Possibilities

I’m making the e-book sound revoltingly technical. It isn’t. Saunders lives within the synapses — he appears in any respect the minute and significant choices that produce a sentence, a paragraph, a convincing character. He gives one of the crucial correct and exquisite depictions of what it’s prefer to be contained in the thoughts of the author that I’ve ever learn — that state of heightened alertness, lightning-quick choices.

The e-book would possibly provoke comparisons to Nabokov’s basic lectures on Russian literature, first delivered at Cornell. However the place Nabokov is all high-plumed prose and take away, presiding at his lectern, Saunders is at your elbow, ladling reward — “my good-hearted trooper,” he addresses us.

I don’t suppose I’ve ever been known as a trooper earlier than. I’m undecided I prefer it.

Right here’s the place I need to admit that I can discover myself in an occasional bardo of types about Saunders, torn between admiration and wariness. The breadth of his perception in fiction is inspiring — and suspiciously flattering to the reader. “There’s an enormous underground community for goodness at work on the earth,” he writes. “An online of people that’ve put studying on the heart of their lives as a result of they know from expertise that studying makes them extra expansive, beneficiant individuals.”

Now, I’m as self-interested a champion of fiction as anybody, however such overstatement does the shape no favors — at greatest it feels naïve, at worst, deeply solipsistic. Is the invasion of Iraq greatest understood as a “literary failure,” as Saunders has written? Can racism be described as an “antiliterary impulse”?

I believe Saunders is just too spiritually superior to learn his critiques. If he did, nonetheless, I think about he is perhaps beaming. “Good little trooper,” he would possibly say.

There’s no cost I’ve made right here that Saunders hasn’t made himself. “I’m form of a knee-jerk Pollyanna-ish particular person,” he has mentioned. “I like to seek out hope, generally irritatingly: ‘Oh, there’s a nail in my head. It’s nice, I’ll cling a coat on it, that’ll be good.’”

And it’s this very form of ambiguity in pondering that he reifies, and that fiction, he tells us, makes doable.

Within the part on Chekhov’s “The Darling,” Saunders writes that the story appears to ask us to sit down in judgment of the character, to ask, “Is that this trait of hers good or dangerous?” Chekhov, he tells us, solutions: “Sure.”

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