Books #2 and #3 of 2013

The Little Book: A Novel is charming for its recreation of fin-de-siecle Vienna, and bits and pieces of its alternate history work pretty well (no spoilers here). But the time travel stuff unwound for me within the first 50 pages–I saw where it was headed way too soon and though there are some notable aspects of the book it really wasn’t worth finishing. What I never saw was the point of the time travel stuff, which wasn’t a particularly new or interesting approach. If you’ve ever seen the Futurama episode “Roswell That Ends Well” then you’ve already seen a similar take on the time-travel constraint. A VERY similar take.

Adolf Hitler and Sigmund Freud show up in this book–Hitler as a small child, and Freud as a recurring character. Hitler will grow up to absorb the politically motivated antisemitism of Vienna–this is ably portrayed in the novel. Freud’s character and his interactions with the protagonist strained my credulity more than any other aspect of the book, including the time travel jazz.

Tenth of December: Stories is much more up my alley. I freaked out several years back when I first encountered CivilWarLand in Bad Decline. This collection is every bit as good, and is often better, than that first volume. Saunders has a peculiar voice and style, very difficult to categorize. He really loathes contemporary society and its focus on corporatization, branding, marketing, consumption, and the alienation of its denizens from their labor and the natural world. And yet he has such compassion for his characters and such pity for their plight that his stories achieve a bizarre comfortable dissonance. I laughed out loud several times, which is quite rare. Some of these stories are tender-hearted and amusing like those of Bobbie Ann Mason or Stephen Dixon, but they can also be acerbic, cold, and with an unsettling tinge of Philip K. Dick twisted into the narrative or setting. I loved this collection and highly recommend it.

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