The Brief and Frightening Reign of Phil, Paperback Book

The Brief and Frightening Reign of Phil Paperback

3.5 out of 5 (3 ratings)


Welcome to Inner Horner, a nation so small it can only accommodate one citizen at a time.

But when Inner Horner suddenly shrinks, forcing three-quarters of the citizen in residence over the border into Outer Horner territory, the Outer Hornerites declare an Invasion in Progress, having fallen under the spell of the power-hungry and demagogic Phil.

So begins his brief and very frightening reign The novella is followed by In Persuasion Nation, a collection of stories by turns touching, funny and sad, and set in a warped, hilarious yet very recognisable American landscape.


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Review by

George Saunders’ version of America makes me happy. Not because it’s a happy place, because it isn’t. Rather the opposite, it’s a twisted nation where consumerism rules supreme, where comfort consists of the emptiest clichés known to language, and where every step away from the norm is a threat to be slammed down on, hard. It’s often stressed that Saunders is a funny writer, and he truly is. I laugh out loud so many times, and giggle on virtually every page. But the undertone here is dark, desperate and devastated.The title novella, The brief and frightening reign of Phil, is a micro-study of racism and imperialism. It’s set around a border conflict in Inner Horner, a country so small it can only inhabit one of it’s residents at the time. The rest are waiting their turn in a “Short-Term Residency Zone” in surrounding, vast (relatively speaking) Outer Horner. That is, until Phil comes along, proclaiming himself Special Border Activities Coordinator and demanding higher and higher taxations from Inner Horner. After all, aren’t Inner Hornites known for being lazy mooches, living off their wealthier neighbours? The novella is simple, almost crude, but it is funny and drastic, and the added touch that we are never quite sure what sort of strange robot/plant/insect creatures those Hornites actually are adds a nice surreal touch.This book also includes the short story collection In Persuasion Nation, which is an even stronger material. Divided in four parts, framed by quotes from a (I hope) fictive book of inspiration called “Taskbook for the New Nation”, it explores some dominant western traits: consumerism, the creating of an Us by appointing a Them, the upholding of norm via language and story and the aggression towards the enemy. Saunders takes it further than ever here, especially in the surreal stories built entirely around sit-com dramaturgy and warped TV commercials (“Pontiac Sophisto: so sophisticated, it might just make you trick your best friend into dangling a brick from his penis!”), where his writing is like nothing I have ever come across before. Very bold and original stuff. But there are also moments of real humanness here, close little stories like the one about a roofer being tricked out of his Christmas bonus by stressing his freedom of choice.As always, this is the true beauty of George Saunders writing. And this is also why his stories make me strangely happy. For while he is painting darkly comical, cynical worlds, the people inhabiting them are ordinary, gentle people, often the bystanders, the silent witnesses or people trying to make some small change in their own futile way. The granddad trying to do something nice for his flamboyant grandson. The focus group super star choosing to go for the real world instead of the metaphor. The polar bear in the commercial for Cheetos striking up a wordless understanding with the Eskimo dad who endlessly puts an axe in his head. The customer relations person desperately trying to believe his own words as he defends the product: a mask to put over a baby’s head to create the illusion it can speak. More often than not they are failing, but they are trying. And in the final story, about sacrifice and honour beyond death, there is even a small sliver of true mercy in here. Beautiful, beautiful stuff.

Review by

The first (and title) story in this collection was fascinating. Completely unique and with a real point, well made. It's about opression, balance of power, xenophobia and everything that goes with it. READ the first story! <br/><br/>Unfortunately it all goes a bit to pot after that. Some intersting points are made and some axes well and truly ground. Alas the hugely inconsistent range of stories that follows 'The Brief and Frightening Reign of Phil' made me give this 2 stars. <br/><br/>If you just read the title tale, consider it 4 stars!

Review by

A bizarre book - the eponymous story is so odd it's a turn-off, but in collection that follows there are several pieces that are so superb you forgive any previous missteps.