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Urged on by sycophants, including a media described as “squat little men with detachable megaphones growing out of their clavicles” posits the existence of a political party named for “People who Refuse to Kill for an Abstraction:’ Elsewhere, the essay “Flooding the Zone: A New Approach to Global Democracy” suggests that the best way to bring peace to Iraq is to force all 300 million Americans to go there and win the hearts and minds of the Iraqis through constant and vigilant overfeedinduce lethargy and keep the insurgency at bay. Meanwhile, Canadians will renovate the Holy Land, while Kosovars, Palestinians, and Israelis enjoy a vacation in now vacated North America. “The hardship will be great, but so will the reward,” Saunders writes. Indeed, these unusual times call for unusual fiction. The most radical of Saunders’s books is the stand-alone novella, The Brief and Frightening Reign of Phil, published last year. Part Dr. Seuss, part Kafka, it’s a surreal political parable about a pair of nations, Inner Homer and Outer Homer, populated by men, machines, and plants all fighting over limited land resources. Outer Homer is a spacious country that surrounds Inner Homer, a country “so small it could contain only one Inner Hornerite” at a time. As one Inner Hornerite occupied the country, the remaining six Inner Hornerites would wait their turn in the nearby Short-Term Residency Zone, an area borrowed from Outer Horner. One day Inner Horner is struck by an earthquake that makes it three-quarters smaller and forces three-quarters of the sole Inner Hornerite in residence into Outer Horner proper. Phil, a middle-aged, “slightly bitter nobody,” rallies the Outer Horner militia to view the flow of Inner Hornerites as an invasion and push them back. Urged on by sycophants, including a media described as “squat little men with detachable megaphones growing out of their clavicles;’ Phil soon seizes power and imposes martial law. He surrounds Inner Homer with a “Peace Encouraging Enclosure” and begins “disassembling” all who are disloyal to him. It’s genocide. As Saunders wrote in an essay, the novella was inspired by “our tendency to turn our enemies into objects, so that we can then guiltlessly destroy them.” The inspiration for Phil, he added, was “some Greatest Common Denominator for tyrants. I had in mind, at various times, Rwanda, Bosnia, the Holocaust, and because the abovedescribed method of composition sometimes leaves a story becalmed or confused for long stretches of time, Islamic Our enemies will first assail the health of our commerce, throwing up this objection and that to innovative methods and approaches designed to expand our prosperity, and thus our freedom. Their old-fashioned clinging to obsolete ideas only signals their extinction. In the end, we must pity them: we are going forward with joy and hope; they are being left behind, mired in fear. These little snippets provide the sense of paranoid forces at work behind the facade of Saunders sleek, futuristic world. Chapter 3, “Are We Not We? Are They Not Them?” offers up this advice about our unseen enemies: They will attempt to insinuate themselves into the very fabric of our emotional lives, demanding the dissolution of the distinction between beloved and enemy, friend and foe, neighbor and stranger. They will, citing equality, deny our right to make critical moral distinctions. Crying peace, they will deny our right to defend, in whatever manner is most expedient, the beloved. Under the guise of impartiality, they will demand we disavow all notions of tradition, family, friends, tribe, and even nation. But are we animals, forced to look blankly upon the rich variety of life, disallowed the privilege of making moral distinctions, dead to love, forbidden from preferring this to that? Such vapid political platitudes appear in the stories themselves as well: “My Flamboyant Grandson” portrays a grandfather-grandson trip to a Broadway show in a futuristic New York City as little more than an orgy of advertising. When a Citizen Helper discovers that the grandfather has sabotaged AUGUST 11, 2006 THE TEXAS OBSERVER 9 fundamentalism, the war on terror, the invasion of Iraq, red states vs. blue states, Abu Ghraib, Shia vs. Sunni, as well as smaller, more localized examples of Us vs. Them.” It’s indeed strange, but somehow it makes sense. That may well be Saunders’s true gift as a writer: making the strange make sense. Written with his signature imaginative aplomb, his latest collection of stories, In Persuasion Nation, is even more acerbic than earlier works. The collection is divided into four sections, each pref aced by excerpts from a fictional neocon rant, “Taskbook for the New Nation.” This book-within-a-book opens with Chapter 1. “New Man, New Growth-Community”: