Lincoln in the Bardo

Robert Baird writes:

George Saunders has long had a thing for ghosts, especially ghosts who haven’t figured out that they’re dead. The title story of his first collection, CivilWarLand in Bad Decline (1996), concerned a down-on-its-luck theme park with a Blacksmith Shoppe, a ninety-foot section of the Erie Canal, and a holographic projection of Jefferson Davis, president of the Confederate States. It also featured a family of dead homesteaders who carry on reading and doing their laundry as though it were still 1865. In ‘CommComm’, published in the New Yorker in 2003, a murdered couple unwittingly haunt their surviving son. No longer hungry, unable to pick up a fork or pee, they are baffled by their posthumous condition. ‘Something’s off but I don’t know what,’ the father says. That line could stand as a shorthand description of much of Saunders’s fiction, which, over twenty years and four collections, has often revelled in a sense of uncanny disorientation. But it seems especially fitting for Lincoln in the Bardo, his first novel, a polyphonic arrangement narrated by a chorus of ghosts who don’t know they’re ghosts.

(LRB 30 March 2017)

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