The Brain-dead Megaphone by George Saunders - review by Stephen Amidon

Stephen Amidon

Satire on Steroids

The Brain-dead Megaphone

By

Bloomsbury 257pp £10.99 order from our bookshop
 

Fans of George Saunders’s luminously satirical short stories will not be surprised to hear that his non-fiction presents a vision of the modern world that is both off-kilter and spot-on. The sixteen essays collected in The Brain-dead Megaphone are sometimes as weirdly evocative of our strange days as Hunter S Thompson’s were of his own bizarre era. Readers might close the book feeling that they have just read a report about a distant planet.

Saunders is at his best here as a travel writer. In ‘The New Mecca’, he voyages from his home in snowy upstate New York to a place that is both literally and figuratively on the far side of the globe – Dubai. There, he finds an Oz-like, hyper-wealthy society that has abandoned any notion of decorum – a tiny nation that will soon have the ‘world’s tallest skyscraper (2,300 feet), largest mall, biggest theme park, longest indoor ski run [and] most luxurious underwater hotel’. Beneath that glittering veneer, however, Saunders finds a sub-stratum of overworked, impoverished guest labourers. ‘Dubai is, in essence, capitalism on steroids … the gap between Haves and Have-Nots [is] so wide as to indicate different species.’

But Saunders finds humanity amid the glaring injustice and consumerist glut. While an uneasy guest at the world’s only seven-star hotel, he slips his complimentary $200 bottle of wine to two tourists who cannot afford a room. At a massive water slide, hard feelings between Arab youths and American sailors

Sign Up to our newsletter

Receive free articles, highlights from the archive, news, details of prizes, and much more.

Follow Literary Review on Twitter