I hadn't much taken to George Saunders' stories before seeing the video below; they felt over-saturated: I could never read more than one at a time, and after having read one I would usually feel as though I couldn't start another at any point in the foreseeable future, like when, after having eaten too much candy, the very idea that they had once seemed delicious seems as foreign as anything could be. Then I saw this video; now he's one of my favorite writers. In this recording, he reads from his wonderful "The 400-Pound CEO," which is collected in CivilWarLand in Bad Decline but may also be found here, on the Harper's website; unfortunately, unless you have a subscription to Harper's, you'll have to make do with reading it in thumbnail-size. I had not read the story before seeing this reading, but I believe I would have responded with much the same queasiness if I had; but Saunders' treatment humanizes the story and refocuses its emotional center. Saunders' voice and intonation – and evident care for his story's eponymous creation – keep its more absurd elements firmly within a palpable and organic realm; where on the page his stories' more outré elements occasionally almost weigh down the story – sometimes it seems as though the hefty awkwardness of some of his phrases or conceits, likely intended, glow awkwardly on the page, threatening to make his authorial power more visible than the ostensible story –, here they are firmly rooted in the life of the title character. He makes what might seem a loud and bombastic story quiet and searching. I now read all of Saunders' stories with his voice in mind.
The illustration is a detail of the work, by Anthony Russo, that was used in the original publication of "The 400-Pound CEO," in the February 2003 edition of Harper's.