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Tenth of December: Storiesby George Saunders
Clever, nuanced, and wholly original, 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."
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.
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.
Synopses & Reviews
One of the most important and blazingly original writers of his generation, George Saunders is an undisputed master of the short story, and Tenth of December is his most honest, accessible, and moving collection yet.
In the taut opener, “Victory Lap,” a boy witnesses the attempted abduction of the girl next door and is faced with a harrowing choice: Does he ignore what he sees, or override years of smothering advice from his parents and act? In “Home,” a combat-damaged soldier moves back in with his mother and struggles to reconcile the world he left with the one to which he has returned. And in the title story, a stunning meditation on imagination, memory, and loss, a middle-aged cancer patient walks into the woods to commit suicide, only to encounter a troubled young boy who, over the course of a fateful morning, gives the dying man a final chance to recall who he really is. A hapless, deluded owner of an antiques store; two mothers struggling to do the right thing; a teenage girl whose idealism is challenged by a brutal brush with reality; a man tormented by a series of pharmaceutical experiments that force him to lust, to love, to kill — the unforgettable characters that populate the pages of Tenth of December are vividly and lovingly infused with Saunders’s signature blend of exuberant prose, deep humanity, and stylistic innovation.
Writing brilliantly and profoundly about class, sex, love, loss, work, despair, and war, Saunders cuts to the core of the contemporary experience. These stories take on the big questions and explore the fault lines of our own morality, delving into the questions of what makes us good and what makes us human.
Unsettling, insightful, and hilarious, the stories in Tenth of December — through their manic energy, their focus on what is redeemable in human beings, and their generosity of spirit — not only entertain and delight; they fulfill Chekhov’s dictum that art should “prepare us for tenderness.”
"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.
"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." Jennifer Egan, Pulitzer Prize-winning author of A Visit from the Goon Squad
"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." Dave Eggers, author of A Hologram for the King
"Saunders's satiric vision of America is dark and demented; it's also ferocious and funny." Michiko Kakutani, The New York Times
"An astoundingly tuned voice — graceful, dark, authentic, and funny — telling just the kinds of stories we need to get us through these times." Thomas Pynchon
About the Author
MacArthur “Genius Grant” fellow George Saunders is the acclaimed author of several collections of short stories, including Pastoralia and CivilWarLand in Bad Decline, as well as a collection of essays and a book for children. He teaches in the creative writing program at Syracuse University.
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