Anatomy of a Book: Pastoralia, by George Saunders

Pastoralia by george saundersIn the old days, when heads were constantly poking in, we liked what we did. (p.2)

There’s no preceding explanation of what this means.

Next morning in the Big Slot is a goat and in the Little Slot a rabbit and a note addressed to Distribution: (p.15)

Or what that means.

Next morning in the Big Slot is no goat, just a note: (p.46)

This is claimed as a funny story, but it seems to be running its own private joke.

Artful and sophisticated…” the cover quotes The New York Times. Sure it is sophisticated, but if it’s funny, it’s written for people who don’t like laughing. Let me explain why.

Changing Status:

After reading many pages to analyse what is happening, it can be figured out that one of the characters is in danger of losing their job. This isn’t a status change in itself. A minor character will have to exit boarding school, and this was interesting for the four pages it took to explain. Then that change was ignored, and the mundane resumed.

High Stakes:

Well, there’s the removal of people, dying children, unemployment, starvation, and commerce. For this book to be funny these topics must be seen as worthy of mirth. Is it a New York thing to laugh at the plight of the unfortunate?

Page Turner:

Are you interesting in trying to figure out what’s happening? By the time you do, the humour is lost because of the effort in analysing, and once you analyse a joke you kill it. So why bother?

Believable Characters:

The practice of “Show don’t tell” is about engaging a reader’s mind. Here the idea of not explaining/telling the situation seems to distance the reader. The world might seem well created, as it lives in its own existence, but the gap between trying to make it realistic and the fault of never establishing relatable motivations for characters makes for the world and characters hard to associate with.


There is some minor moral questions posed, but not worthy of the time taken to read this story.


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