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Working in an independent bookstore in Colorado. Reading the books that my former lit professors would probably frown on.

Currently reading

And the Mountains Echoed
Khaled Hosseini
On Such a Full Sea
Chang-rae Lee
Progress: 100/300 pages

The Brief and Frightening Reign of Phil

The Brief and Frightening Reign of Phil - George Saunders


Only 150 pages, The Brief and Frightening Reign of Phil is perfect in its balance of absurdity and seriousness. As I often find with good fiction, the further removed we are from ourselves the better a look we get at just how fucked up we can be (and sometimes how wonderful).


The book begins in Inner Horner, a country big enough to fit just one of its seven citizens at any given moment. The other six must patiently wait for their time in the homeland in the small displacement zone located in the much larger Outer Horner. The Inner Hornerites get a place to go when they can't fit into their small country; the Outer Hornerites get to feel exceedingly generous for allowing the foreigners a place to go. This all works out fine until one day, without warning, Inner Horner shrinks so only 3/4 of a resident can fit inside, meaning the remaining quarter is treading in Outer Horner. To the Outer Hornerites, this means invasion, and only Phil is prepared to take the lead and put the invading Inner Hornerites in their place.


It's important to also mention that none of the residents of this irrational world look anything alike, or anything like a human. Rather they are assembled pieces, oddly stitched together in ways that stretch the imagination. Cal, for instance, is an Inner Hornerite who is comprised solely of a tuna fish can, a belt, a blue dot, and various connecting parts. The previously mentioned Phil has the unfortunate characteristic of a brain mounted on a sliding rack. This is a precarious place for a brain, and Phil's has the tendency to slide out whenever he gets excited, causing him to spout meaningless (yet dramatic) diatribe which leaves the other Outer Hornerites very impressed with his authority.


While the book serves largely as an allegory for colonialism & nationalism, no one is safe from George Saunder's skewers. The media, politicians, and even bystander citizens all play a role in this absurdist story. Saunders is spot-on in his mockery and twistedly funny throughout. 


The best part is the name of the National Drinking Song of Outer Horner: "Large, Large, Large Beloved Land (If Not the Best, Why So Very Dominant?)" I think this could work very well for the U.S., too. Now we just need someone to write it.