Paris Review – CivilWarLand in Bad Decline: Preface, George Saunders

When I was in my twenties I had this plan to go to El Salvador and write about the experience. I had no money, didn’t speak Spanish, but this was “my dream.” I stopped by one day to see a friend of mine but found only his father home. I’d never spoken to this man before, not really. He was a truck driver, a father of eight, always went around in a white T-shirt and a pair of Buddy Holly glasses. But this day, we talked. I told him about my El Salvador plan, expecting him to find it indulgent. But instead he said, “You know what? You have to do it.”

“Yes,” I said, with the force of revelation. “I do. I really do.”

“And you know why?” he said. “Because you know who you’re going to blame if you don’t?”

I did know.

“Myself,” I said with a knowing smile.

“Bullshit,” he said. “You’ll blame your wife and  kids.”

I often thought of this conversation when I was stealing time from Radian to write this book. If I didn’t, I told myself, I was going to become a bitter old-fart version of myself, blaming Paula and the girls.

So I stole like a mother. I wrote in the bathroom, I printed using the company printer, I turned away from my Kodak report to jot things down, I edited while waiting for an offsite groundwater remediation system to purge, I sometimes blew off a full afternoon when I was feeling ripe, although usually, when that happened, I’d take work home, just to be fair.

(Cf. Amy Poehler.)

It’s been a few years since I’ve read any Saunders, but I’m really excited about his new book.

Paris Review – CivilWarLand in Bad Decline: Preface, George Saunders