For more than a decade, George Saunders has been the best short-story writer in English — not “one of,” not “arguably,” but the Best.
In my favorite stories (“Tenth of December” or “The Falls” or “The Red Bow”), some goofy, tormented guy tries to rise up to carve out justice on a heroic scale. Picture a knight in cardboard breastplate and tinfoil helmet wielding a toilet plunger. These guys are wholly loseresque except for a sudden lunge at saving — often against unbearable physical or spiritual odds — some very broken human units. All this plus laugh-out-loud wisecracks.
We hired George to teach writing at Syracuse University 17 years back, and he brings to class a similarly humble urge to serve. Blond and slim, with the bristly mustache of a Russian cavalry officer, he’s open to every student’s effort, however far-fetched. Both with his own characters and with teaching, he claims, modestly, “I just let everybody do what they want.”
Which happens to be what everybody needs. George’s work is a stiff tonic for the vapid agony of contemporary living — great art from the greatest guy.
Karr is a poet, essayist and best-selling memoirist
Next Jimmy Kimmel