STARRED REVIEW
November 2022

Liberation Day

By George Saunders
In his fifth story collection, George Saunders focuses his attention on how, for better or worse, we weigh the moral choices we’re called upon to make and how we live with the consequences.
Share this Article:

In his 2021 book, A Swim in a Pond in the Rain, George Saunders turned to Russian literary giants like Anton Chekhov and Leo Tolstoy to provide the source material for a stimulating master class on the craft of the short story. With Liberation Day, Saunders offers up nine of his own inimitable stories, each serving to enhance his status as a contemporary master of the form. It’s his fifth collection, featuring four new stories and five previously published in The New Yorker.

Saunders has a fondness for challenging readers by dropping them into an alien environment and then patiently revealing details that bring a hazy picture into sharp focus, gradually making it all feel uncomfortably familiar. That’s true of the novella-length title story, in which a group of characters, led by the narrator, Jeremy, is programmed to deliver reenactments of historical events—in this case a graphic rendering of Custer’s “last stand” at the Battle of the Little Bighorn. In “Ghoul,” another unfortunate coterie serves as actors in an underground amusement park, slowly discovering, to their horror, the truth of their plight. And in “Elliot Spencer,” the already damaged titular character finds himself manipulated by an unscrupulous group of political activists.

Not all of Saunders’ stories qualify as material for an episode of “The Twilight Zone.” “A Thing at Work” is a nightmarish version of “The Office,” shifting seamlessly among the perspectives of four characters in a chess game of escalating retribution, while “Mother’s Day” explores the bitterness that remains between two aging women who once loved the same man. “Love Letter” is a moving and at times chilling letter, written by a grandfather to grandson, that serves as both an apologia and a warning. The letter describes a turbulent political era uncomfortably similar to our own, when the grandfather and his wife watched as the TV “blared this litany of things that had never happened, that we could never have imagined happening,” all the while assuming “that those things could and would soon be undone and that all would return to normal.” 

The volume concludes with the small gem “My House,” a haunting tribute to the persistence of desire and human folly, whose seven pages are a gorgeous example of Saunders’ ability to evoke heightened emotion with the most economical prose. 

Describing the work of his Russian subjects in Swim, Saunders wrote that they “seemed to regard fiction not as something decorative but as a vital moral-ethical tool.” In Liberation Day, Saunders is actuated by similar concerns, focusing his attention on how, for better or worse, we weigh the moral choices we’re called upon to make and how we live with the consequences.

Trending Reviews

Get the Book

Liberation Day

Liberation Day

By George Saunders
Random House
ISBN 9780525509592

Sign Up

Stay on top of new releases: Sign up for our enewsletters to receive reading recommendations in your favorite genres.

Sign Up

Sign up to receive reading recommendations in your favorite genres!