George Saunders's Bookshelf
By Nikolai Gogol
Sometimes I think fiction exists to model the way God might think of us, if God had the time and inclination to do so. Gogol comes closest to my current feeling about what God thinks of us. God/Gogol thinks we're very odd and funny, pathetic really, a bunch of self-centered disasters about to happen, of whom he is, nevertheless, fond. Chichikov, a kind of Russian Willy Loman, roams the countryside, buying up dead serfs—but the point is the roaming, and all the Russian nut jobs he meets in the process. Big, epic, and hilarious, Dead Souls convinced me once and for all that the comic approach is the most true and generous, the closest to our actual experience of life. We try, we fail, we posture, we aspire, we pontificate—and then we age, shrink, die, and vanish.