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the strips on the bottom of his shoes \(the strips control the tion that forces him to watch a corrective video called “Robust Economy, Super Moral Climate!” There’s a distinct echo in the name of that video to the “Go Shopping, or the Terrorists Will Have Won” diktat extolled by the White House in weeks after the September 11 terrorist attacks. The title story, “In Persuasion Nation,” depicts reality as if it were a nonstop television ad, peopled by amorous DingDongs and larcenous, talking polar bears, terrorized by the Godlike “green symbol.” “The Red Bow” is an allegory for the invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq. After a pack of wild dogs kills a young girl, her father, wielding his dead daughter’s little red bow as a totem, lobbies fellow citizens to pre-emptively eliminate all the pets in town to prevent further attacks. There will be no mercy: “Kill every dog, every cat,” advises the grieving mother of the young victim. “Kill every mouse, every bird. Kill every fish. Anyone objects, kill them too.” In the final story, “CommComm,” an Air Force public relations officer is forced to spin atrocities into tolerable news. He is then murdered by a co-worker. His unexpected death, which turns him into a ghost, allows him to liberate other murder victims from a kind of limbo. No it’s not subtle, but it is sophisticated and almost entirely sui generis. Or nearly so. Saunders does have literary forebears, two of whom can be traced to Texas. The claustrophobic milieu of “CommComm” immediately brings to mind Terry Southern’s screenplay for the 1964 film, Dr. Strangelove, and the paranoid tension on Burpelson Air Force Base as it braces for nuclear holocaust. And there are echoes of Donald Barthelme, a writer Saunders has described as “a god.” Though the satire in Barthelme’s absurdist stories is often intellectual or social rather than political, both writers employ a collage-like structure and esoteric, enigmatic plot lines. Juxtapose Barthelme’s grimly funny “Some of Us Had Been Threatening Our Friend Colby” with “The Red Bow,” and the resemblance in toneas well as the twisted logic of its geniusis unmistakable. Like Saunders, who has been consciously influenced by the Bush White House, much of Barthelme’s work was at least a partial reaction to another event deeply disturbing to the American psychethe Vietnam War. Like Barthelme, Saunders has also received a rare imprimatura baton if you willfrom another ground-breaking, radical, anti-war fiction writer: Thomas Pynchon, who has called Saunders “an astounding tuned voicegraceful, dark, authentic, and funnytelling just the kinds of stories we need to get us through these times.” Too true. All this means it is important to invite Saunders into the pantheon of great, innovative, and rebellious Texas writers. He’s one son of the Lone Star State of whom we can all be proud. Edward Nawotka is a writer in Houston. He can be reached at [email protected] corn. FIVE QUESTIONS for GEORGE SAUNDERS Texas Observer: How did the time you spent in Texas affect your literary sensibility? George Saunders: First, my family down there is very vocal and funny and warm. That worked its way into my fiction just in the sense that humor was always seen as desirable, and as a valid way to work out problems or just enjoy yourself My grandfatherwho traveled around the Panhandle as a salesmanwas a big influence, as were my uncles. They all knew how to convey joy via stories and jokes, etc., and in fact gave you the feeling that this was the whole point of lifethis conveying of joy. TO: Did literature give you a sense of life being different beyond the conservative outlines of our Lone Star State? GS: Actually, when I was growing up I never thought of Texas as a conservative place at all. In Amarillo there was a good sense of what I’d call Steinbeckian wisdomthis sense that ultimately the big companies and bosses were, of course, feeding on the little guy. My grandfather worked all through the Depressionhe had, at one point, four jobs at once and so when I first read The Grapes of Wrath it was people I’d met in Amarillo that I imagined … TO: Do you find Texas inherently “weird”? GS: I think it’s inherently greathuge and outsized and bold and all those other adjectives people use. So yes, weird toothe one thing I loved about Texas when I was there in my 20s and trying to learn how to write was how oddly scifi and strange it wasthe cowboy stuff, the countrysideand then those allglass buildings and expressway-dominated cities, multinational cities … for somebody who was, at the time, trying to channel Hemingway, it was a great reminder that literature has to be big and weird itself if it’s going to give us even a taste of the real world. TO: Politically, how has it influenced your fiction? GS: Well, I guess it taught me that behind a label like “right-wing fundamentalist” are real people, some of whom I love. Many of my friends and relatives from Texas are located way to the right of me. And that’s a great political lesson: Any group identity is at best an approximation, and a real artist \(or a to go behind the Broad Characterization and try to understand everyone as a complex, evolving, work-in-process. TO: I also understand that among your unpublished fiction is a novel set in a WalMart in Amarillotrue or rumor? GS: Well, not really. But there was a long stretch there where I was trying to “do” Amarillo in the voice of Hemingway, which just doesn’t work. 10 THE TEXAS OBSERVER AUGUST 11, 2006