Nourse Theater found its Art Deco self filled to the brim with readers, artists, and liberally minded individuals of the Bay Area as Man Booker Prize Winner, George Saunders, took his seat on the stage.
The topic, of course, was his novel, “Lincoln in the Bardo,” released last year to immediate acclaim and fascination. Written in enticing, bewildering prose that lends the reader the experience of not just reading the novel, but rather being haunted by it, it seems encouraging that such a masterpiece has touched so many—particularly in a time when facing the truth and going head to head with flawed mortality and violent societal misgivings is inarguably an Achilles heel we Americans repeatedly favor.
An inundating trip through the Bardo is the root of the tale, as the death of Abraham Lincoln’s son Willie unravels the American President as he himself is attempting to govern an unraveling nation. Can a father move forward? Can a child let go? Is there a way to overcome our collective demons, and abate the damned ego that plagues humankind even after our passing? These are some of the questions Saunders poses in this magnum opus.
For such an intelligent, thoughtful writer, the man himself is wonderfully accessible and relatable in person. He not only spoke of his book, but also of the state of the nation and how there’s so much for America to own up to, this baggage that the country strapped to itself since the beginning. Saunders expounded on much of the stale societal beliefs that continue to pervade much of America’s mentality. To make any steps toward progress and improvement, those faults and failed belief systems need to be shaken for all time.
“It’s like if you noticed you have shit on your shirt. You know, you’d want it off. You don’t say, oh I was raised this way.” This comment garnered a great laughter from the crowd as he went on, “You got your national defenses; that’s apart of the shit on your shirt.”
In hopes to move past the constraints of that societal psyche, he credited literature as an enormous power in doing so. Here, we tend to agree. The arts move people in a way that, perhaps, politics never could.
On a lighter note, he’s also tremendously funny. The author credited Monty Python and Ernest Hemingway amongst the eclectic intersection of his integral cultural inspiration. Saunders’ talk was organized by the City Arts and Lectures series, live and on public radio. The series brings a variety of noteworthy authors, artists, and speakers to the stage.
// Nourse Theater, 275 Hayes St., Hayes Valley. Photograph by ANDREAS LASZLO KONRATH, for GQ Style.