Brow Beat

Watch George Saunders Read Stephen Colbert a Sweetly Desperate Bedtime Story

The latest in Stephen Colbert’s parade of literary father figures is George Saunders, the sly and funny Tenth of December author last seen installing metaphorical light fixtures in the New Yorker. Colbert has previously invited two other writers, Jonathan Franzen and John Irving, to read him “bedtime stories” at the end of the Late Show. Each tale has underscored the author’s strengths and interests while gently skewering his image. (Franzen, for instance, played the curmudgeon, warning Colbert about Amazon’s wolf-like designs on the quaint village of bookselling.)

This week’s skit fits the pattern: In “Festive,” Saunders’ yarn, a down-on-his-luck dad writes in his diary about his struggle to communicate the Christmas spirit to his kids without breaking his budget. The tale makes use of Saunders’ signature style, a fragmented, personable stream of earnest hopes and desperate insecurities. (“Note to self,” the dad says. “Set low dollar limit per kid … Gaze at sky to assuage kids’ sense of having been gypped by low limit.”)

By the end of the story, however, Jesus has neutralized an angry mob with his laser vision (at least according to one of the narrator’s kids) and the moon is shining on shelves of snow in the branches of the trees. It’s a typically moving Saunders creation, and a nice garnish on Colbert’s own sweetly sardonic tone.