Liberation Day by George Saunders

Liberation Day by George Saunders. New York: Random House, 2022. 233 pages.

Liberation Day by George Saunders

A mother seeks revenge on the stranger who hurt her son. A grandfather writes a letter to his grandson explaining why he did not take more action to stop a dystopia from forming. Two office workers who are both engaging in bad behavior struggle with their incompetent manager. Two women who were once in love with the same man reflect on their lives during a chance encounter. These are just some of the protagonists featured in George Saunders’ latest short story collection, Liberation Day.

George Saunders is best known as a short story author, and Liberation Day marks his first short story collection since his highly acclaimed collection Tenth of December in 2013. Throughout his career, Saunders’ stories have focused on ordinary people who find themselves in extraordinary circumstances. Saunders’ writing often combines elements of science fiction with stories set in a world that feels similar to our own, just a few years in the future. Saunders also explores the psyche of his protagonists, offering insights on his characters to the readers that are not always evident to the characters themselves. This technique is exemplified in the story “Mother’s Day.”

“Mother’s Day” features two women, Alma, and Debi, who lives are forever linked by Alma’s late husband Paul. Paul was a frequent cheater, and Debi was his most frequent partner. In Alma’s internal monologue, she blames her children, Pammy and Paulie, for her husband staying out all night, passing out on the front porch, and smelling of other women’s perfume, instead of recognizing her husband for who he truly was. Debi imagines herself as Alma’s opposite, a free-spirited hippie in contrast with the uptight Alma, but as she recounts her past and her estrangement from her daughter and the lack of true love from her romantic encounters, it is clear both women are choosing to believe a comforting narrative rather than face their reality. Saunders reveals these details not to harm the characters that he has created, but to show the reader how easy it is to have a false narrative we tell ourselves.

Saunders writes with precision, but also a sense of humor. “Elliott Spencer” tells the story of an elderly man who has had his memory wiped to serve as a propaganda tool. Even in this bleak scenario, the relationship between 89, as Elliott is now known, and his handler Jer, has many funny moments as Jer is amused with and takes pride in his protégée relearning basic words. While Elliott’s fate is incredibly dystopian, by the end of the story, Saunders has given Elliott hope for a better life without the story taking a sappy turn.

Liberation Day is another brilliant collection from a modern master of the short story. The stories, while a bit offbeat, are full of humanity, and might reveal some inner truths to their readers.

Elizabeth Weislak is the Youth Services Coordinator at the Alamance County Public Libraries. She can be reached at