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We loved Joel Lovell’s profile of George Saunders in yesterday’s Times Magazine. Lovell quotes generously from Saunders’s preface to the new edition of CivilWarLand in...
This book was written in the Rochester, New York, offices of Radian Corporation between 1989 and 1996, at a computer strategically located to maximize the number of steps a curious person (a boss, for example) would have to take to see that what was on the screen was not a technical report about groundwater contamination but a short story. I had graduated from the Syracuse MFA program in 1988 and had been writing stories that owed everything to Ernest Hemingway and suffered for that. They were stern and minimal and tragic and had nothing to do whatsoever with the life I was living or, for that matter, any life I had ever lived. We billed our hours, and I would respond to any disrespect toward my person by declaring (in my mind, always only in my mind): “Thanks, a-hole, your project has just funded a Saunders grant for the arts.” And, for an edit that could have been done in an hour, I would bill that program manager’s project an hour and a half, then use the liberated half hour to work on my book. This book. “Capitalism plunders the sensuality of the body,” wrote Terry Eagleton, and that was certainly true of my body at that time. It was being plundered of its sensuality every day. I had an engineering degree but was working as a tech writer. I had earned a reputation as the go-to guy where document covers were concerned. I was good at taping figures into place on frame sheets. I spent a lot of time at the photocopier, producing copies of the reports I had just edited, so we could send them to Kodak or the New York Department of Environmental Conservation, who, we suspected, often filed them without having read them. I was gaining weight, losing energy, had grown a consolation ponytail, would go home sore in my ankles and knees from walking what felt like miles on the thin carpeting that ran over our concrete floors. There was a lot going on at home during those years, too. My wife, Paula, and I had gotten engaged after dating for three weeks. She became pregnant on the honeymoon, then went into labor at four months. She was put on total bed rest and required to take a drug (since outlawed by the FDA) to suppress her contractions. This happened again during her second pregnancy. So, while I was writing this book, we had two baby daughters at home, each made doubly precious by how close we’d come to losing her. We didn’t have any money and were into our thirties and were (maybe, just a little) wondering how it was that we’d missed the boat in terms of this thing called upward mobility. 
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