George Saunders’ surrealist novella The Brief and Frightening Reign of Phil (Riverhead) is a startling, funny satire about a border dispute between the imaginary countries of Inner and Outer Horner and the meteoric rise of the demagogue Phil, a petulant, Machiavellian crumbum who seems peculiarly suited to political leadership since he keeps literally misplacing his removable brain. The humor here is sometimes flat and silly—a pair of muck-slathered giants work as “Mud-Consistency Testing Associates” and Phil’s penchant for doublespeak increases every time that brain of his tumbles out—but Saunders tempers these zanier details with a deep compassion for the story’s victims and scapegoats. Imagine Lewis Carroll and Donald Barthelme teaming up to rewrite Orwell’s Animal Farm and you’ll have some idea of the strange, unsettling charms of this weird little book.
About the Author: Gregory Brown
Gregory Brown, Reviews Editor, hails from Vancouver Island, in beautiful British Columbia. He is a graduate of the University of North Carolina, Greensboro MFA program for Fiction and Memorial University of Newfoundland's Master of Arts program in English Literature. He is the recipient of the Roy Daniels Memorial Essay Prize and his fiction and criticism have appeared in Postcript and Paragon.