If you wonder what’s new and hip in the literary arena aside from the mainstream bestsellers list, give George Saunders a try.
He’s among the most prolific authors of contemporary experimental fiction. Saunders is known for his darkly humorous stabs at contemporary culture, taking up a variety of causes, often criticizing the media, corporate America, and, in this case, the Iraq war.
Saunders has a knack for creating absurd alternate realities that are enjoyable and thought-provoking. In his mind, Doritos bags talk and countries may be no larger than a tile of sod.
In his latest novella, “The Brief and Frightening Reign of Phil,” the tiny nation of Inner Horner is so small that only one citizen may live there at a time. The other six citizens must wait their turn in a short-term residency zone in the surrounding country of Outer Horner. This arrangement works until the Outer Hornerites are led to war by the despotic Phil, reminiscent of Hitler or Mussolini, who, with the full support of his subjects, attempts genocide of the Inner Hornerites.
On one level, the novel is an outlandish exercise in absurdity. Still, in the same way that “Animal Farm” was not just about animals, there is also a bold political statement that’s unsettling in the same way as Orwell’s seminal novel. In this time of political unrest, contemporary readers can’t help but reflect on the essential message written between the lines. Saunders presents a poignant statement against the imperialistic turf wars and class struggles that define contemporary American culture.