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1 Beaverton Literature- A to Z

Tenth of December: Stories

by

Tenth of December: Stories Cover

 

 

Excerpt

Victory Lap

Three days shy of her fifteenth birthday, Alison Pope paused at the top of the stairs.

Say the staircase was marble. Say she descended and all heads turned. Where was {special one}? Approaching now, bowing slightly, he exclaimed, How can so much grace be contained in one small package? Oops. Had he said small package? And just stood there? Broad princelike face totally bland of expression? Poor thing! Sorry, no way, down he went, he was definitely not {special one}.

What about this guy, behind Mr. Small Package, standing near the home entertainment center? With a thick neck of farmer integrity yet tender ample lips, who, placing one hand on the small of her back, whispered, Dreadfully sorry you had to endure that bit about the small package just now. Let us go stand on the moon. Or, uh, in the moon. In the moonlight.

Had he said, Let us go stand on the moon? If so, she would have to be like, {eyebrows up}. And if no wry acknowledgment was forthcoming, be like, Uh, I am not exactly dressed for standing on the moon, which, as I understand it, is super-cold?

Come on, guys, she couldn’t keep treading gracefully on this marble stairwell in her mind forever! That dear old white-hair in the tiara was getting all like, Why are those supposed princes making that darling girl march in place ad nausea? Plus she had a recital tonight and had to go fetch her tights from the dryer.

Egads! One found oneself still standing at the top of the stairs.

Do the thing where, facing upstairs, hand on railing, you hop down the stairs one at a time, which was getting a lot harder lately, due to, someone’s feet were getting longer every day, seemed like.

Pas de chat, pas de chat.

Changement, changement.

Hop over thin metal thingie separating hallway tile from living-room rug.

Curtsy to self in entryway mirror.

Come on, Mom, get here. We do not wish to be castrigated by Ms. Callow again in the wings.

Although actually she loved Ms. C. So strict! Also loved the other girls in class. And the girls from school. Loved them. Everyone was so nice. Plus the boys at her school. Plus the teachers at her school. All of them were doing their best. Actually, she loved her whole town. That adorable grocer, spraying his lettuce! Pastor Carol, with her large comfortable butt! The chubby postman, gesticulating with his padded envelopes! It had once been a mill town. Wasn’t that crazy? What did that even mean?

Also she loved her house. Across the creek was the Russian church. So ethnic! That onion dome had loomed in her window since her Pooh footie days. Also loved Gladsong Drive. Every house on Gladsong was a Corona del Mar. That was amazing! If you had a friend on Gladsong, you already knew where everything was in his or her home.

Jeté, jeté, rond de jambe.

Pas de bourrée.

On a happy whim, do front roll, hop to your feet, kiss the picture of Mom and Dad taken at Penney’s back in the Stone Ages, when you were that little cutie right there {kiss} with a hair bow bigger than all outdoors.

Sometimes, feeling happy like this, she imagined a baby deer trembling in the woods.

Where’s your mama, little guy?

I don’t know, the deer said in the voice of Heather’s little sister Becca.

Are you afraid? she asked it. Are you hungry? Do you want me to hold you?

Okay, the baby deer said.

Here came the hunter now, dragging the deer’s mother by the antlers. Her guts were completely splayed. Jeez, that was nice! She covered the baby’s eyes and was like, Don’t you have anything better to do, dank hunter, than kill this baby’s mom? You seem like a nice enough guy.

Is my mom killed? the baby said in Becca’s voice.

No, no, she said. This gentleman was just leaving.

The hunter, captivated by her beauty, toffed or doffed his cap, and, going down on one knee, said, If I could will life back into this fawn, I would do so, in hopes you might defer one tender kiss upon our elderly forehead.

Go, she said. Only, for your task of penance, do not eat her. Lay her out in a field of clover, with roses strewn about her. And bestow a choir, to softly sing of her foul end.

Lay who out? the baby deer said.

No one, she said. Never mind. Stop asking so many questions.

Pas de chat, pas de chat.

Changement, changement.

She felt hopeful that {special one} would hail from far away. The local boys possessed a certain je ne sais quoi, which, tell the truth, she was not très crazy about, such as: actually named their own nuts. She had overheard that! And aspired to work for CountyPower because the work shirts were awesome and you got them free.

So ixnay on the local boys. A special ixnay on Matt Drey, owner of the largest mouth in the land. Kissing him last night at the pep rally had been like kissing an underpass. Scary! Kissing Matt was like suddenly this cow in a sweater is bearing down on you, who will not take no for an answer, and his huge cow head is being flooded by chemicals that are drowning out what little powers of reason Matt actually did have.

What she liked was being in charge of her. Her body, her mind. Her thoughts, her career, her future.

That was what she liked.

So be it.

We might have a slight snack.

Un petit repas.

Was she special? Did she consider herself special? Oh, gosh, she didn’t know. In the history of the world, many had been more special than her. Helen Keller had been awesome; Mother Teresa was amazing; Mrs. Roosevelt was quite chipper in spite of her husband, who was handicapped, which, in addition, she had been gay, with those big old teeth, long before such time as being gay and First Lady was even conceptual. She, Alison, could not hope to compete in that category of those ladies. Not yet, anyway!

There was so much she didn’t know! Like how to change the oil. Or even check the oil. How to open the hood. How to bake brownies. That was embarrassing, actually, being a girl and all. And what was a mortgage? Did it come with the house? When you breast-fed, did you have to like push the milk out?

Egads. Who was this wan figure, visible through the living-room window, trotting up Gladsong Drive? Kyle Boot, palest kid in all the land? Still dressed in his weird cross-country toggles?

Poor thing. He looked like a skeleton with a mullet. Were those cross-country shorts from the like Charlie’s Angels days or quoi? How could he run so well when he seemed to have literally no muscles? Every day he ran home like this, shirtless with his backpack on, then hit the remote from down by the Fungs’ and scooted into his garage without breaking stride.

You almost had to admire the poor goof.

They’d grown up together, been little beaners in that mutual sandbox down by the creek. Hadn’t they bathed together when wee or some such crud? She hoped that never got out. Because in terms of friends, Kyle was basically down to Feddy Slavko, who walked leaning way backward and was always retrieving things from between his teeth, announcing the name of the retrieved thing in Greek, then re-eating it. Kyle’s mom and dad didn’t let him do squat. He had to call home if the movie in World Culture might show bare boobs. Each of the items in his lunch box was clearly labeled.

Pas de bourrée.

And curtsy.

Pour quantity of Cheez Doodles into compartmentalized old-school Tupperware dealie.

Thanks, Mom, thanks, Dad. Your kitchen rocks.

Shake Tupperware dealie back and forth like panning for gold, then offer to some imaginary poor gathered round.

Please enjoy. Is there anything else I can do for you folks?

You have already done enough, Alison, by even deigning to speak to us.

That is so not true! Don’t you understand, all people deserve respect? Each of us is a rainbow.

Uh, really? Look at this big open sore on my poor shriveled flank.

Allow me to fetch you some Vaseline.

That would be much appreciated. This thing kills.

But as far as that rainbow idea? She believed that. People were amazing. Mom was awesome, Dad was awesome, her teachers worked so hard and had kids of their own, and some were even getting divorced, such as Mrs. Dees, but still always took time for their students. What she found especially inspiring about Mrs. Dees was that, even though Mr. Dees was cheating on Mrs. Dees with the lady who ran the bowling alley, Mrs. Dees was still teaching the best course ever in Ethics, posing such questions as: Can goodness win? Or do good people always get shafted, evil being more reckless? That last bit seemed to be Mrs. Dees taking a shot at the bowling-alley gal. But seriously! Is life fun or scary? Are people good or bad? On the one hand, that clip of those gauntish pale bodies being steamrolled while fat German ladies looked on chomping gum. On the other hand, sometimes rural folks, even if their particular farms were on hills, stayed up late filling sandbags.

In their straw poll she had voted for people being good and life being fun, with Mrs. Dees giving her a pitying glance as she stated her views: To do good, you just have to decide to do good. You have to be brave. You have to stand up for what’s right. At that last, Mrs. Dees had made this kind of groan. Which was fine. Mrs. Dees had a lot of pain in her life, yet, interestingly? Still obviously found something fun about life and good about people, because otherwise why sometimes stay up so late grading you come in next day all exhausted, blouse on backward, having messed it up in the early-morning dark, you dear discombobulated thing?

Here came a knock on the door. Back door. In-ter-est-ing. Who could it be? Father Dmitri from across the way? UPS? FedEx? With un petit check pour Papa?

Jeté, jeté, rond de jambe.

Pas de bourrée.

Open door, and—

Here was a man she did not know. Quite huge fellow, in one of those meter-reader vests.

Something told her to step back in, slam the door. But that seemed rude.

Instead she froze, smiled, did {eyebrow raise} to indicate: May I help you?

Kyle Boot dashed through the garage, into the living area, where the big clocklike wooden indicator was set at All Out. Other choices included: Mom & Dad Out; Mom Out; Dad Out; Kyle Out; Mom & Kyle Out; Dad & Kyle Out; and All In.

Why did they even need All In? Wouldn’t they know it when they were All In? Would he like to ask Dad that? Who, in his excellent totally silent downstairs woodshop, had designed and built the Family Status Indicator?

Ha.

Ha ha.

On the kitchen island was a Work Notice.

Scout: New geode on deck. Place in yard per included drawing. No goofing. Rake areas first, put down plastic as I have shown you. Then lay in white rock. THIS GEODE EXPENSIVE. Pls take seriously. No reason this should not be done by time I get home. This = five (5) Work Points.

Gar, Dad, do you honestly feel it fair that I should have to slave in the yard until dark, after a rigorous cross-country practice that included sixteen 440s, eight 880s, a mile-for-time, a kajillion Drake sprints, and a five-mile Indian relay?

Shoes off, mister.

Yoinks, too late. He was already at the TV. And had left an incriminating trail of microclods. Way verboten. Could the microclods be hand-plucked? Although, problem: if he went back to hand-pluck the microclods, he’d leave an incriminating new trail of microclods.

He took off his shoes and stood mentally rehearsing a little show he liked to call what if . . . right now.

what if they came home right now?

It’s a funny story, Dad! I came in thoughtlessly! Then realized what I’d done! I guess, when I think about it, what I’m happy about? Is how quickly I self-corrected! The reason I came in so thoughtlessly was, I wanted to get right to work, Dad, per your note!

He raced in his socks to the garage, threw his shoes into the garage, ran for the vacuum, vacuumed up the microclods, then realized, holy golly, he had thrown his shoes into the garage rather than placing them on the Shoe Sheet as required, toes facing away from the door for ease of donnage later.

He stepped into the garage, placed his shoes on the Shoe Sheet, stepped back inside.

Scout, Dad said in his head, has anyone ever told you that even the most neatly maintained garage is going to have some oil on its floor, which is now on your socks, being tracked all over the tan Berber?

Oh gar, his ass was grass.

But no—celebrate good times, come on—no oil stain on rug.

He tore off his socks. It was absolutely verboten for him to be in the main living area barefoot. Mom and Dad coming home to find him Tarzaning around like some sort of white trasher would not be the least fucking bit—

Swearing in your head? Dad said in his head. Step up, Scout, be a man. If you want to swear, swear aloud.

I don’t want to swear aloud.

Then don’t swear in your head.

Mom and Dad would be heartsick if they could hear the swearing he sometimes did in his head, such as crap-cunt shit-turd dick-in-the-ear butt-creamery. Why couldn’t he stop doing that? They thought so highly of him, sending weekly braggy emails to both sets of grandparents, such as: Kyle’s been super-busy keeping up his grades while running varsity cross-country though still a sophomore, while setting aside a little time each day to manufacture such humdingers as cunt-swoggle rear-fuck—

What was wrong with him? Why couldn’t he be grateful for all that Mom and Dad did for him, instead of—

Cornhole the ear-cunt.

Flake-fuck the pale vestige with a proddering dick-knee.

You could always clear the mind with a hard pinch on your own minimal love handle.

Ouch.

Hey, today was Tuesday, a Major Treat day. The five (5) new Work Points for placing the geode, plus his existing two (2) Work Points, totaled seven (7) Work Points, which, added to his eight (8) accrued Usual Chore Points, made fifteen (15) Total Treat Points, which could garner him a Major Treat (for example, two handfuls of yogurt-covered raisins) plus twenty free-choice TV minutes, although the particular show would have to be negotiated with Dad at time of cash-in.

One thing you will not be watching, Scout, is America’s Most Outspoken Dirt Bikers.

What Our Readers Are Saying

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Average customer rating based on 4 comments:

lukas, March 23, 2013 (view all comments by lukas)
An egregiously praised short story collection from a so-called "genius grant" recipient. If he's a genius, any schmuck can be.
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(3 of 17 readers found this comment helpful)
cthoop, March 20, 2013 (view all comments by cthoop)
I'd been hearing the praise for George Saunders for years, and with the release of Tenth Of December I became a convert!

This collection of stories is fantastic. A look at some modern issues through such a unique lens, busting into the hilarious and absurd so quickly you can't help but wonder if you've missed a page or two. I know this phrase gets thrown a lot more than it should, but I am honestly of the opinion that Saunders has a voice unlike any other.

After finishing this book, I've devoured everything Saunders I could find, and he quickly has jumped the rungs of my favorite writer ladder almost overnight.
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(4 of 6 readers found this comment helpful)
P.M. Bradshaw, March 6, 2013 (view all comments by P.M. Bradshaw)
I picked this book up because I’d read four or five glowing reviews, one of which saying it was the ‘best book you’ll read this year.’

It was, in fact, the WORST book I’ve read in a long, long while.

The reviews always seemed to use the word “hilarious,” which just stumped me. What part was hilarious? The poor woman who murders animals because she thinks her husband probably wants her to? The retarded child they keep chained in their backyard? The Iraq vet who’s angry and confused?

Yeah, it was a hilarious read (please note, SARCASM).

It came off like that English teacher everyone had that always talked about writing, but cannot do it himself (or self-published and ended up with 400 copies of his poetry chapbook in his trunk).

Filled with unlikable characters, boring plots, and muddled storytelling, I hated it. This was the first book in a long time that I read in one day; not because I couldn’t put it down, but because I wanted to just get through it and put it behind me.
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(8 of 12 readers found this comment helpful)
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Product Details

ISBN:
9780812993806
Subtitle:
Stories
Author:
Saunders, George
Publisher:
Random House
Subject:
Stories (single author)
Subject:
Literature-A to Z
Copyright:
Publication Date:
20130131
Binding:
HARDCOVER
Language:
English
Pages:
272
Dimensions:
8.52 x 5.88 x 1 in 0.9 lb

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Tenth of December: Stories Used Hardcover
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Product details 272 pages Random House - English 9780812993806 Reviews:
"Staff Pick" by ,

Clever, nuanced, and weird, Tenth of December is a short story collection that manages to venture into uncomfortable places in a very entertaining way. Saunders explores questions of morality and personal responsibility with a lightness of touch and an irresistible charm — while he may create narrators that seem shortsighted or foolish at times, he clearly has affection for all his characters. Standouts in the collection include "Victory Lap," following two adolescent kids whose fight or flight reactions get put to the test, "Home," a heart-wrenching portrait of a shell-shocked veteran, and the dystopian tale "Escape from Spiderhead."

"Staff Pick" by ,

The fact that I read this all the way back in January and it still immediately jumped to mind as my favorite book of the year is a testament to the lingering power of every single one of these stories. You'll laugh until you cry, and vice versa — both reactions are George Saunders specialties. And upon completion, each story will have you looking at the world around you with a newfound sense of wonderment. It almost feels redundant to single this collection out after the year it's had, but consider this one last imploration to believe the hype.

"Staff Pick" by ,

The stories in Tenth of December are as entertaining as they are important. Even when they are set in a slightly more dystopian and bizarre version of our own world, the stories say a great deal about our culture and the way people are now. Saunders is the master of modern short fiction, and this may be his finest book yet. And, perhaps most importantly, this book was so much fun to read that I couldn't put it down.

"Publishers Weekly Review" by , "The title of Saunders's fourth collection doesn't reference any regularly observed holiday, but for the MacArthur-certified genius's fans, a new collection, his first in six years, is a cause to celebrate. Yet the 10 stories here — six of which ran in the New Yorker — might make readers won over by earlier, irony-laced absurdities like Pastoralia's 'Sea Oak' or corporate nightmares like 'CommComm' from In Persuasion Nation question whether they know Saunders as well as they think they do. Yes, 'Puppy' is about a maniacally upbeat mother on a 'Family Mission' to adopt a dog only to discover the dog owner's son chained to a tree in the backyard 'via some sort of doohicky.' Yes, 'Escape from Spiderhead' is about evil experiments to make love and take love away using drugs with names like Darkenfloxx. But readers expecting zany escapism will be humbled by the pathos on display in stories like 'Home,' where a soldier returns to his humble origins. 'Victory Lap' features a disarming case of child kidnapping, and 'The Semplica Girl Diaries' is a heartbreaking chronicle of two months of changeable fortune in the life of a lower-middle-class paterfamilias of modest expectation ('graduate college, win Pam, get job, make babies, forget feeling of special destiny'). Eventually, a suspicion creeps in that, behind Saunders's comic talents, he might be the most compassionate writer working today. Agent: Esther Newberg, ICM. (Jan. 8)" Publishers Weekly (Starred Review) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.
"Review" by , "Tenth of December shows George Saunders at his most subversive, hilarious, and emotionally piercing. Few writers can encompass that range of adjectives, but Saunders is a true original — restlessly inventive, yet deeply humane."
"Review" by , "George Saunders is a complete original, unlike anyone else, thank god — and yet still he manages to be the rightful heir to three other complete American originals — Barthelme (the lyricism, the playfulness), Vonnegut (the outrage, the wit, the scope), and Twain (the common sense, the exasperation). There is no author I recommend to people more often — for ten years I've urged George Saunders onto everyone and everyone. You want funny? Saunders is your man. You want emotional heft? Saunders again. You want stories that are actually about something — stories that again and again get to the meat of matters of life and death and justice and country? Saunders. There is no one better, no one more essential to our national sense of self and sanity."
"Review" by , "Saunders's satiric vision of America is dark and demented; it's also ferocious and funny."
"Review" by , "An astoundingly tuned voice — graceful, dark, authentic, and funny — telling just the kinds of stories we need to get us through these times."
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