With an absurdist wit as playful as Monty Python’s and a vision as dark as Samuel Beckett’s, a post-modernist spins a provocative parable of political power and its abuses.
This novella from Saunders (Pastoralia, stories, 2000, etc.) concerns the tensions between two countries, Inner Horner and Outer Horner. Inner Horner is the smallest country imaginable, so small that only one of its seven inhabitants can fit within its borders at a time. Then it inexplicably gets even smaller, making it impossible for Inner Hornerites to avoid “invading” the boundaries of the surrounding and more prosperous Outer Horner. Because their country is larger and has greater resources, the Outer Hornerites feel that they are favored by God, and that the fate of the Inner Hornerites reflects their innate inferiority. Citizens in this society are some combination of plant and machine; Outer Horner’s president has multiple mustaches and chins (and three legs); and the media are mindlessly inept, parroting what they’re told, distorting what they see. (Maybe this isn’t so different after all.) As an Outer Hornerite pursuing a personal agenda against Inner Horner, a bitter citizen named Phil seizes power from the apparently senile president and bends the political apparatus of his country to his will. He imposes an onerous tax on the citizens of Inner Horner whenever they enter Outer Horner (where at least some of their body parts invariably intrude), thus turning victims into criminals. He then convinces his fellow citizens that those criminals are the embodiment of an absolute evil that must be exterminated. Tightly packed with detail, dialogue and black humor, the fairy tale narrative resolves itself in a manner that breathes fresh life into the Latin term deus ex machina (“god from the machine”).
For those who appreciate speculative, experimental fiction, a mind-bending work inviting readers to ponder the nature of parable and the possibilities of language.
Welcome to Inner Horner, a nation so small it can only accommodate one citizen at a time. The other six citizens must wait their turns in the Short-Term Residency Zone of the surrounding country of Outer Horner. It's a long-standing arrangement between the fantastical, not-exactly-human citizens of the two countries. But when Inner Horner suddenly shrinks, forcing three-quarters of the citizen then in residence over the border into Outer Horner territory, the Outer Hornerites declare an Invasion In Progress--having fallen under the spell of the power-hungry and demagogic Phil.
So begins The Brief and Frightening Reign of Phil. Fueled by Saunders's unrivaled wit, outlandish imagination, and incisive political sensibility, here is a deeply strange yet strangely familiar fable of power and impotence, justice and injustice--an Animal Farm for our times.
"An astoundingly tuned voice--graceful, dark, authentic, and funny--telling just the kinds of stories we need to get us through these times."
"Mr. Saunders writes like the illegitimate offspring of Nathanael West and Kurt Vonnegut. [His] satiric vision of America is dark and demented; it is also ferocious and very funny."
--Michiko Kakutani, The New York Times
"A master of distilling the disorders of our time into fiction."
Want to know the story behind the story of award-winning author George Saunders's new novella, The Brief and Frightening Reign of Phil? Then read "Why I Wrote Phil," an exclusive essay from Saunders concerning the genesis of his new work, which has been praised as possessing "an absurdist wit as playful as Monty Python's and a vision as dark as Samuel Beckett's."
Read George Saunders's Essay, "Why I Wrote Phil"
More from George Saunders