Reviews for In Persuasion Nation : Stories

Booklist Reviews 2006 April #1
/*Starred Review*/ The most unnerving fiction boldly envisions the dire consequences of our most hubristic tendencies: our bottomless greed, maniacal competitiveness, hyper-materialism, environmental obliviousness, spiritual callousness, and fear of being different. Following in the footsteps of Orwell, Bradbury, and Atwood, Saunders writes shrewd, off-the-charts speculative fiction, leading a coterie of similarly inclined short story writers that includes Scott Bradfield, Judy Budnitz, and David Foster Wallace. In his third savagely imaginative collection, his most riveting to date, he considers various forms of diabolical persuasion in a techno-colonized world in which advertising governs every aspect of life. Junk-food products are alive and aggressive, and people and animals are either subjected to cruel experiments or forced to live within the confines of commercials and television vignettes featuring rampant cartoonlike violence. Coercion, brainwashing, peer pressure--all are fiendishly engineered to ensure that the repressed and medicated populace wants only comfort and the latest products, and that any rogue intimations of morality and empathy are swiftly crushed. Funny, creepy, mournful, and outraged, Saunder's ingenious and superbly crafted satirical stories blaze like warning lights on the road to hell. ((Reviewed April 1, 2006)) Copyright 2006 Booklist Reviews.

Kirkus Reviews 2006 March #2
Within this series of thematically linked stories, consumerism goes haywire in a country and era somewhat like our own.Following his fabulist novella (The Brief and Frightening Reign of Phil, 2005), Saunders returns to the short story with his signature synthesis of satire and surrealism, through which flights of the imagination assume a hyper-reality. Within the brave new world of "Persuasion Nation," parents buy computerized masks for their babies, transforming infants into amazing, more articulate facsimiles of themselves (and making the neighbors jealous). Advertising holograms based on individual preferences shadow potential shoppers, in a society where consumption equals patriotism. Children are taken from their homes to live in a training camp, where they form an elite Tastemakers & Trendsetters cadre (complete with their own bubblegum cards). With all the pressures to consume and conform, free will is either an illusion or a betrayal. The stories take a variety of formats-letters of complaint and comment, a scientific report, a holiday memory (in the uncharacteristic, bittersweet realism of "Christmas")-and most of them feature first-person narration by a series of oddly dysfunctional narrators. Exceptions to the variety of first-person voices are two of the longer stories at the collection's center: "Brad Carrigan, American" finds a television series under threat of cancellation resorting to increasingly extreme measures to sustain interest (and in the process probing the morality of anything-goes reality TV). The title story that follows turns the world of commercials into a battlefield of all-American revolt. Though much of the fiction is slapstick funny in a dark, deadpan way, a spiritual undercurrent courses through the work, as desire and suffering feed on each other, and God may be just another pitchman or empty promise. Where many short stories at the creative vanguard seem to bear minimal relation to the world at large, Saunders's work is as effective as social commentary as it is at exploring the frontiers of fiction.Many readers will be glad that they don't live in Persuasion Nation, though the most perceptive will recognize that we already do. Copyright Kirkus 2006 Kirkus/BPI Communications. All rights reserved.

Publishers Weekly Reviews 2006 February #2

Following his superb story collections Civilwarland in Bad Decline (1996) and Pastoralia (1999), as well as last year's novella The Brief and Frightening Reign of Phil , Saunders reaffirms his sharp, surreal vision of contemporary, media-saturated life, but keeps most of the elements within his familiar bandwidth. In the sweetly acerbic "My Flamboyant Grandson," a family trip through Times Square is overwhelmed by pop-up advertisements. In "Jon," orphans get sold to a market research firm and become famous as "Tastemakers & Trendsetters" (complete with trading cards). "CommComm" concerns an air force PR flunky living with the restless souls of his parents while covering for a spiraling crisis at work. The more conventionally grounded stories are the most compelling: one lingers over a bad Christmas among Chicago working stiffs, another follows a pair of old Russian-Jewish women haunted by memories of persecution. Others collapse under the weight of too much wit (the title story especially), and a few are little more than exercises in patience ("93990," "My Amendment"). But Saunders's vital themeâ€"the persistence of humanity in a vacuous, nefarious marketing culture of its own creationâ€"comes through with subtlety and fresh turns. (May)

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