I've been a fan of George Saunders for about seven years now, ever since I purchased the Best American Short Stories of 1999 and read "Winky", shortly after "The Barber's Unhappiness" appeared in The New Yorker. I bought both of his story collections, was pleased when he began to get tapped regularly for The New Yorker's "Shouts and Murmurs" section, and FINALLY got to read his In Persuasion Nation last week.
I don't know what to think of it. I was a little disappointed to see that I'd read most of those stories before, in different forms. I was further disappointed to dislike many of the new ones. The title story, especially, was too long, and too precious. It's about characters in commercials who have a lot of harm inflicted upon them in selling the product and rise up against their oppressors within the ads (think of the Mucinex guys, repeatedly chased out of their comfy homes). It was intentionally choppily written, but at some points that just becomes annoying to me and kind of detracts from the message.
I think that's the overall problem with many of the stories in the book. In his earlier books, he made excellent points, but the stories had a lot of heart and humanity. I was really moved by the dilemma of Neil in "Winky." I felt sad that the barber was never going to find his way out of his own unhappiness because of his inability to love any woman the way she was and his own overinflated sense of self-worth. A few of these stories did that: "Jon", "CommComm" and "My Flamboyant Grandson" in particular captured the humanity of people living in an inhumane and absurd society, sometimes exaggerated from our own, sometimes not. But a lot of them were just trying to make various points about materialism/consumerism, entertainment and corporate control. Don't get me wrong, they did, and I'm sure a lot of people loved this book, but I miss the heart. I understand he has a book either out now or imminent, and I'll look forward to that one too.