George Saunders in the Afterlife

The story master George Saunders is widely revered as the nicest guy in the writing game, but it’s sweeter and deeper than that. I met him in the Boston Public Library the other day to gab about his spooky transcendental first novel — about Abraham Lincoln in limbo with the son that died in the White House; immediately I was reminded of what Maxim Gorki noticed about Anton Chekhov, a Saunders idol: “In Anton Chekhov’s presence,” Gorki said, “every one involuntarily felt in himself a desire to be simpler, more truthful, more one’s self…”

And so it went for us with George Saunders. He’s famous for writing: “Stay open, forever, so open it hurts,” and he talks that way about everything – about his and his wife’s version of Tibetan Buddhism, for example; about his very complicated feelings inside Trump campaign rallies; about the notion he teaches that “if death is in the room,” as it is in throughout his new novel, the writing and the reading get pretty interesting. The book in question is titled Lincoln in the Bardo – using the Tibetan word for a mysterious space underground for lost souls after death, but not quite dead. He gave me a feeling it’s a zone we all might well get to know better.

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  • Potter

    I could listen to you two too all day. Saunders is brilliant here: the idea of this book and Chris’s loving conversation knitting in Emerson and Chekhov.Though I have not read the book (I would like to) the sense I get at this awesome sorrowful moment in Lincoln’s his life is that being so close to those questions about life’s meaning, where we go, why we are here, the letting go, added to his greatness as a President. The love and admiration we feel for him is somewhat about his humility before us and then the humanity he projected as he lead.

    It’s agreed so widely that we are in a perilous moment with Trump, we are just finding out more each day, that it’s hard not to think Trump the divider total opposite of Lincoln who tried to unite us.We are probably still fighting that war.

    I keep think of the pictures of Trump in front of the Lincoln Memorial; the way he used Lincoln on that day made me cringe.