Lincoln in the Bardo

George Saunders’ background as a technical writer is always apparent, at least to me. This book, in some ways, is a work place comedy. The work place happens to be a cemetary. And the co-workers happen to be ghosts. What Saunders developed in his experience as an office worker, you could say, is a similar perspective to what Ricky Gervais developed working in an office too.

However, what Saunders has, almost certainly as a natural part of his personality, is a deep and abiding sense of pathos and emotionality. This trait shows up in his writing, but it is always buttressed by lots of jokes and self-deprication. A combo that works for me – usually.

This book didn’t work as well, for me, as Saunders’ short stories. I didn’t feel engaged until about the halfway point. And even the 2nd half didn’t have as much of a payoff for me, as stories in Pastoralia and CivilWarLand in Bad Decline. Perhaps it was the mix of voice, anecdotes from historical research and ghost dialog, that didn’t work for me. There were moments when I felt the weight of what Saunders’ had set out to write about, and those moments were fantastic. But, overall, I found myself wanting more of the American folk sensibility that he brought to something like his New Yorker Trump reporting piece.