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deaths were linked with the dealings of the South Sea Company, a shady financial venture vying for a place in Britain's economic power structure alongside the Bank of England. The "paper" in the title refers to stock, a financial innovation that is quickly replacing the established hard-money system of England with a seemingly foundationless exchange of shares. Weaver's quest to discover the cause of the elder Batiour's death soon leads to undeniable connections between BaUour and his own father, a notorious stockjobber who was hated by many for taking advantage of the easy-money opportunities provided by stock fluctuation. Before long Weaver is thrown headfirst into a virtuaUy unnavigable labyrinth of money, power and corruption. Such obstacles would be challenge enough, but Weaver must also contend with the demons of his personal IUe: his abandoned famtiy and faith and his precarious position in a London rife with anti-Semitic prejudice . Weil plotted and impressive for its wealth of historicaUy accurate detaU about eighteenth-century finance, Liss' novel is rich with surprises. The book has its shortcomings, however. Liss' style and diction—reminiscent of the speech of the eighteenth century without being completely authentic—are often convincing, yet ultimately come off as superficial. And while Liss' prose is inteUigent, it often lacks urgency during what should by all rights be heart-pounding sequences. AU in all, though, A Conspiracy of Paper is a satisfying first novel that is unUkely to disappoint devotees of either mysteries or historical fiction. (AR) Pastoralia by George Saunders Riverhead Books, 2000, 224 pp., $22.95 In the six stories that make up Pastoralia, George Saunders writes like an atheistic Flannery O'Connor, using a dose ofdark humor to explore the Uves of maladjusted, down-at-theheels characters who function as best they can, given their limitations. Saunders' stories often take place within or around the world of work, but don't think you'll be reading about young lawyers or ambitious academics, or even truck drivers or farmers. His characters have strange jobs. In the title story, Saunders takes us to a run-down amusement center —something that caUs to mind a decrepit version of Disney World— where the narrator and his partner, Janet, spend theti days in a cave, representing early Homo sapiens. They wear animal skins, buUd fires, roast goats and wait for "guests" to stop by and poke their heads into the exhibit. Not many guests come by, and as the story progresses, this sUghtly surreal setup becomes entirely credible and, in fact, eerily representative of any modern workplace with its petty feuds, drudgery and downsizing issues. Janet breaks the rules—she speaks English in the cave, she speaks to the guests (instead of cowering in the corner shrieking, the appropriate cave-person response), and her dereUct son actuaUy enters the cave and starts an argument. The narrator is torn between his affection for his rule-breaking coworker and his obUgation to his boss, who wants the narrator to give him ammunition he can use to fire Janet. Saunders gets 182 · The Missouri Review the business-speak of the amusement park's management exactly right, and the story, which is hUariously scathing, also questions how much workers should sacrifice for theirjobs. Saunders' characters are both tragic and funny. They're caught in terrible situations, working at terrible jobs, nursing grievances and plotting revenge. "The End of FIRPO in the World" detaüs the last bike ride of the overweight misfit Cody. He circles the neighborhood, seething from the injustices wrought by the fortunate Dalmeyers, his squatty body, his mother and her boyfriend. PropeUed by his plan of revenge—he's going to insert a wooden lozenge into the Dalmeyers' garden hose so that it wUl explode the next time it's turned on— he rides in front of a car and is hit. "Sea Oaks" presents another narrator with pecuUar employment. He's a waiter/stripper at a place called Joysticks. The story contains a supernatural element in the form of Aunt Bernie, who UteraUy rises from the grave and uses newfound psychic powers to goad her unemployed nieces, along with the narrator, out of theti inertia. Saunders' humor...


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pp. 182-183
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