May 2014 - Not to Disturb by Muriel Spark and Pastoralia by George Saunders

This month is a double header! Combined page count is around 300 so should be doable for everyone.

From Amazon: 

Not to Disturb by Muriel Sparks

A winter’s night; a luxurious mansion near Geneva; a lucrative scandal. The first to arrive is the secretary dressed in furs with a bundle of cash, then the Baron, and finally the Baroness. They lock themselves in the library with specific instructions not to be disturbed for any reason. Soon, shouts and screams emerge from the library; the Baron’s lunatic brother starts madly howling in the attic; two of the secretary’s friends are left waiting in a car; a reverend’s services are needed for an impromptu wedding—and despite all that the servants obey their orders as they pass the time playing records, preparing dinner, and documenting false testimonies while a twisted murder plot unfolds upstairs.


Pastoralia by George Saunders

George Saunders imagines a near future where capitalism has run amok. Consumption and the service economy rule the earth. The Haves are grotesque beings, mutilated by their crass desires and impossible wealth. The Have Nots are no less crippled, both emotionally and physically, by their inferior status. It's a kind of Westworld scenario, but instead of robots, the serving wenches, bellboys, and extras are real people, all of them mercilessly indentured by the free market.

Sounds like bleak stuff, doesn't it? Yet Saunders handles his characters with grace and humor. In the title story, for example, a couple occupies a squalid corner of a human zoo, where they act out a parody of caveman times, communicating in grunts and hand motions (speaking is instantly punishable by the Orwellian management) and conducting their lives during 15-minute smoke breaks. In "Winky," a born loser (really, all of Saunders's characters are born losers) visits a self-help seminar, where he's encouraged to rid himself of all those people who are "crapping in your oatmeal." Exhilarated at the prospect of dumping his simple, crazy-haired, religion-besotted sister, he returns home to the bleak discovery that he needs her as much as she needs him. The protagonist of "Sea Oak" works as a stripper in an aviation-themed restaurant and lives next to a crack house with his unemployed sisters, their babies, and a sweet old maid of an aunt. The aunt dies, and then returns from the grave--not so sweet, now, and still decomposing--with strange powers and a sobering message:

You ever been in the grave? It sucks so bad! You regret all the things you never did. You little bitches are going to have a very bad time in the grave unless you get on the stick, believe me!

The characters and situations in the rest of Pastoralia are equally wretched. But Saunders rescues them from utter despair with a loving belief in the triumph of the human spirit: yes, things can always get worse, but worse is better than the cold dirt of the grave. And in the small space between wretchedness and death there is plenty of room for laughter, and even love.


This will be another picnic style gathering in a park so bring blankets and food and drink if you like! Post in the comments what you will bring so we make sure we have a variety of items. Also we are looking for submissions for good introduction questions that are fun and/or embarrassing! Post those in the comments as well!

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  • Emily J.

    Hey everyone! Turns out I'm stuck at work and won't be able to make it. Really wish I could be there. See you next month!

    May 27, 2014

  • Dane O.

    Looks like the weather is gonna be great for next weeks meetup! Let's start thinking about food and drink to bring. Post here what you can bring so we have some variety. I will be bringing my picnic blanket and some cookies.

    May 22, 2014

    • Prem

      Err make that guac

      May 26, 2014

    • Adam R.

      Just seeing this, I've got some fruit I can bring! And mini muffins. Because obviously it's not a picnic without mini muffins.

      May 27, 2014

  • Amy G.

    Damn and blast, turns out Amaury and I are going to a talk on Tuesday night *and* one on the last Tuesday in June! Looks like I'll be MIA for a few months, but hope to see some of you around anyway.

    May 23, 2014

    • Amy G.

      If anyone needs Pastoralia from the Santa Clara library, I just checked it out yesterday, but I can check it back in tonight if you need it.

      May 23, 2014

  • Dane O.

    There has been some question as to the availability of Not to Disturb. Looks like Link+ through the public libraries do have some copies and then Amazon.com will be the easiest options.

    April 29, 2014

    • Cassie M.

      Thank you for checking on this. Should've been my job. That's why we pay you the big bucks.

      April 30, 2014

    • Dane O.

      In the famous words of Christopher George Latore Wallace, "Mo' money, mo problems".

      1 · April 30, 2014

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