‘You couldn’t make it up’, screams the tabloid tv presenter as he recounts the surreal situation of Santa Claus and his helper elves being threatened by angry families in a run-down amusement park in the cultural wilderness of Kent.
Far more entertaining, though starting from a similar run-down amusement park premise, is George Saunders brilliant Civilwarland in Bad Decline which can be found both in the eponymous collection or in the excellent The Granta Book of the American Short Story: v. 2. It’s an indication of the strength of the story that it is one of the few surreal stories admitted into Richard Ford’s stridently traditional edition for Granta.
No summary of the story would do it justice, as it’s not just the story but how it’s told that is at stake. Back in September I posted an excerpt from an interview between Saunders and Ben Marcus (author of Notable American Women: A Novel) where Saunders spoke about “efficiency, action, clarity, velocity” in prose, and how the preference or weighting given by an author to these elements becomes in effect their style. That interview was the promise which made Saunders worth seeking out – CivilWarLand in Bad Decline is the reward, and it’s a great one at that.
Santa in Crapland is an amusing stocking-filler for the tabloid news, but with CivilWarLand in Bad Decline Fiction is much stranger than Truth, and all the better for it.