Like everyone else, I read the Times piece on Saunders, and even by hedgehog standards, he sounds like a stand-up guy. Even my literary nemesis, Junot Diaz, has good things to say about him. This is all somewhat troubling to me because on paper, Saunders represents everything I despise about literature: short stories (it’s like taking a bunch of tequila shots when I really want a long, slow-aged Scotch), dystopian (oh, you’re so goddamn edgy with your futuristic satire), and wacky (hedgehogs don’t do wacky). Those three things normally instill rage blackouts within me, but guess what? It didn’t. I fucking loved this book.
First, Saunders obviously knows his shit when it comes to short stories. He’s got the format down like I know my way around a scurry wheel. Each story was contained in its own universe, and it was mind-boggling to move on from one to the next. That’s right, I just used the word “mind-boggling” — shit just got real. As for being dystopian, I don’t mind it as much when the parallels between today and the future aren’t so blatantly obvious. (1984, I’m looking at you.) “Escape from Spiderhead,” my favorite in the bunch, was a perfect example. You fucking MFA students could write your thesis about almost anything in regard to this story —drugs, romance, science— and get an A+, or whatever it is you guys get. (A tweed blazer?) Lastly, it is wacky, but tolerably so. If there is a palpable sense of misery, longing, and desperation beneath that wackiness, then I’m good to go. And believe me, Saunders has got all that in spades. To explain my change of heart, I have to once again agree with my nemesis, that bastard, when he said, “few people cut as hard or deep as Saunders does.”