Andy Ward on George Saunders’ LINCOLN IN THE BARDO

George Saunders book buzzAndy Ward, Vice President, Editor in Chief, Random House, offers insights into the editing of this week’s Igloo Book Buzz selection, George Saunders’ LINCOLN IN THE BARDO:  “I’d be lying if I said I had any idea what a novel by George Saunders would look like. This is a guy who was fiercely devoted to the short story form – who once actually said, ‘A novel is a story that hasn’t figured out how to be short yet.’ But then, one day in September 2015, the draft appeared in my inbox, with a simple message: ‘Here it is.’ I opened the file. It was … historical fiction. It was … a story told by ghosts … in a swirling chorus of voices, oral-history style … unfolding in a graveyard over the course of a single night in 1862 … starring Abraham Lincoln and his recently departed, 11-year-old son, Willie… a novel that blended fiction and nonfiction. But given that it’s George, I can’t say I was surprised. Thrilled is probably the better word. Thrilled by the formal innovation, the total commitment to the idea, and the central story of a father trying to come to terms with the loss of his beloved son.”

George Saunders

George Saunders

In a New York Times Book Review cover review of LINCOLN IN THE BARDO, Penguin Random House author Colson Whitehead wrote, in part, “It’s a very pleasing thing to watch a writer you have enjoyed for years reach an even higher level of achievement. To observe him or her consolidate strengths, share with us new reserves of talent and provide the inspiration that can only come from a true artist charting hidden creative territory. George Saunders pulled that trick off with Tenth of December…. How gratifying and unexpected that he has repeated the feat with Lincoln in the Bardo, his first novel and a luminous feat of generosity and humanism…. Here is a crucible for a heroic American identity: fearful but unflagging; hopeful even in tragedy; staggering, however tentatively, toward a better world. The father must say goodbye to his son, the son must say goodbye to the father. Abraham Lincoln must stop being the father to a lost boy and assume his role as a father to a nation, one on the brink of cataclysm.”

More praise has been heaped on Mr. Saunders and LINCOLN IN THE BARDO.

Here is a small sampling:

“Opening a George Saunders book feels like falling into a lucid dream: a world so fantastically vivid and strange that it wouldn’t be entirely surprising to wake up and find some new, untraceable stamp on your passport. A master of the short form for more than two decades, Saunders has finally produced his first full length novel — though that word hardly begins to convey the literary wonder contained within its pages, an extraordinary alchemy of free-verse ghost story, tender father-son devotional, and backdoor presidential biography….wild high-wire pastiche. He’s always been a dazzlingly clever voice in fiction, but Bardo is something else: a heartfelt marvel, sad and funny and surreal.” — Entertainment Weekly

“A stunning depiction of the sixteenth President’s psyche … witty and garrulous … Saunders does a fine job—and has a fine time—quickening his little necropolis to literary life…These are the voices of fiction, not history, but they are also the voices of history still having to be made, with whatever hopelessness, in whatever time.”—New Yorker

“A brilliant, Buddhist reimagining of an American story of great loss and great love… Saunders has risen an unsentimental novel of Shakespearean proportions, gorgeously stuffed with tragic characters, bawdy humor, terrifying visions, throat-catching tenderness, and a galloping narrative, all twined around the luminous cord connecting a father and son and backlit by a nation engulfed in fire.”—Elle

In case you missed it, check out this recent feature: Nearly 60 Colleagues Featured on George Saunders’ LINCOLN IN THE BARDO Random House Audio Title

Posted: February 21, 2017