Wow; I'm really late to the party. It seems everyone already knows this collection is amazing and there is no chance that I'm telling anyone anything new. So, on-board the thoroughly departed years ago bandwagon I go...
If this collection is indicative of the rest of Saunders output, I'm torn: he's funny; really, organically funny. He's also very, very contemporary. Not a bad thing, only to say I'm not sure the 'jokes' will make as much sense or be as readily funny as they are now in fifteen years. (Which means it's really good to be a reader right now! GO READ THIS BOOK!) If his previous stuff is similarly contemporary, it's probably reading a bit dated; I'm sure we all have encountered this 'problem' before with writers.
Middle class, working, Americans of today are all he has to talk about: Blue collar, military Veterans, and suburbanites. And also SF. Or—let me be more clear—Science Fiction. A lot of that happens too. It's hard to call it SF when the New Yorker and Harper's publish the stories. It's really, really hard to call it SF when you get a NBA. But a lot of this collection, I'd go so far as to say, “The best of this collection,” is SF.
It's always dark, and sometimes that is easy to forget, and it's always funny; and that is unforgettable.
'Victory Lap' was my favorite. Juxtaposing two family's 'model' children in different light, making me laugh all the way through. Then scaring me into thinking something terrible was going to happen to one then the other, then both. It's the little dose of reality mixed into the suburban satire that is scary, because it's so real. The, 'this could never happen to my kids' fears we have never even come to mind in Saunders' stories until they do; and even when they do, somehow it's still hilarious. Which only makes things more intense.
Sometimes things are funnier than darker, as in 'Exhortation.' A waaaay too long work Memo that underscores, the immediacy of a given department's need to improve and how HQ will 'fix' things if they don't. I've had that job. Twice. I've seen my take on the real corporate version of that Memo. Saunders isn't throwing darts in the dark: he knows what he's talking about. Its a funny 'Ha-ah' not funny 'Laugh at my tears' kinda story. Or something. (Trump was elected yesterday; I'm trying so hard to not make appropriate jokes for fear of tarnishing the authors work!)
The best story, not necessarily my favorite, was the most SF. Expecting me to say the 'The Simplica Girls Diaries?' The one you may have heard about? No. I'll say I didn't care for that one, and then not substantiate as to why though I've many reasons. (I can do that because the Harper's and New Yorker people don't read my blog and I don't have to explain myself to them.) 'Escape from the Spiderhead' immediately reminded me of 'Calliagnosia,' by Ted Chaing but better. I'll say nothing else until you've read both; then we can talk until the sun comes up.
And all of the next day too.
It's SF and literary fiction; who cares? It's really, really good. (But seriously, when was the last time anyone ever cared about literary fiction?) Don't miss out; don't put it off any longer. Read it now. I mean, I haven't even talked about, 'the good stories,' yet!