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Tenth of December: Stories Hardcover – Deckle Edge, January 8, 2013
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Amazon Best Books of the Month, January 2013: George Saunders' first short-story collection in six years, Tenth of December is as profound and moving as it is entertaining. Saunders' wonderful ability to portray a character's inner monologue--the secret voices, the little fantasies, the inside jokes, the spots of sadness--might be his greatest talent as a writer. But he is also expert at parceling out details to hook the reader and nudge the story in whatever direction he wants it to go. While these stories are generally more straightforward than we’re used to seeing from this author, the turns they take are constantly surprising. Saunders is an American original, a writer gifted at expressing the irony and absurdity all around us and inside us, but his ultimate goal is to show us something deeper: Our lives are composed of genuine experiences that deserve to be taken seriously. --Chris Schluep
*Starred Review* Saunders, a self-identified disciple of Twain and Vonnegut, is hailed for the topsy-turvy, gouging satire in his three previous, keenly inventive short story collections. In the fourth, he dials the bizarreness down a notch to tune into the fantasies of his beleaguered characters, ambushing readers with waves of intense, unforeseen emotion. Saunders drills down to secret aquifers of anger beneath ordinary family life as he portrays parents anxious to defang their children but also to be better, more loving parents than their own. The title story is an absolute heart-wringer, as a pudgy, misfit boy on an imaginary mission meets up with a dying man on a frozen pond. In “Victory Lap,” a young-teen ballerina is princess-happy until calamity strikes, an emergency that liberates her tyrannized neighbor, Kyle, “the palest kid in all the land.” In “Home,” family friction and financial crises combine with the trauma of a court-martialed Iraq War veteran, to whom foe and ally alike murmur inanely, “Thank you for your service.” Saunders doesn’t neglect his gift for surreal situations. There are the inmates subjected to sadistic neurological drug experiments in “Escape from Spiderhead” and the living lawn ornaments in “The Semplica Girl Diaries.” These are unpredictable, stealthily funny, and complexly affecting stories of ludicrousness, fear, and rescue. --Donna Seaman
Top customer reviews
This book is powerful, dark and disturbing. If you are looking for a “fun read”, this is not it. At times, I felt distaste for the author’s mind. Initially, I thought what he filled his head with was cold, boring and uninteresting. As I read more, I realized how well written these stories are. The ten stories here reach into the very core of human existence. They are an eye-opener to the problems we face in our relationships to each other and ourselves.
Jealousy, self-justification, loneliness, lack of empathy, hate, meanness, violence and brutality are all here.
I have heard that the author has called his book a “lab experiment”. “Escape From Spiderhead”, story number 4, is certainly a good example. Free will is derailed in this story:
Jeff had a criminal past; in a moment of fury, he killed Mike in a fight and was arrested. His mother pleaded that he be spared prison, so instead of a life behind bars, Jeff became a guinea pig in a laboratory.
The head of the spider is the control room. Its legs are the workrooms for the experiments. Mobi packs are surgically attached to each of the subjects, so that they can be given different drugs. ED289/290 can make a person fall in love and have certain thoughts that the subjects think are their own. Jeff is incredibly attracted to Rachel, falls in love with her and has an intense sexual encounter. Given another drug, he falls out of love and cannot see what he had found was so attractive about Rachel before. He then has the same experience with Heather. He is surprised to find that both these women have had the same sort of relationships with another man, Rogan. Then the Confirmation Committee wants the experimenters to give Heather Darkfloxx and record Jeff’s reaction to her suffering. Life is not worth living with this drug. Heather dies horribly. Jeff is now told to Darkfloxx Rachel, but he won’t say ‘acknowledge”, despite the fact that he now knows all the subjects have had violent criminal pasts. Jeff’s bosses, Verlaine and Abnesti, try to override him using Docilryde, which will allow his bosses to make Jeff push the lethal button. Docilryde is in Jeff’s mobipak, but Jeff has to give them permission to use it. When Verlaine and Abnesti leave to get an override, Jeff gives himself Darkfloxx and dies.
When he dies, his spirit flies above the building with the birds. Jeff is free at last. He is relieved that he won’t have to kill anyone ever again. Jeff thinks about various murderers and wonders if their crimes were their fault. It is really a matter of predestination, he thinks. God charged them with growing up as mess-ups.
These stories can have different interpretations. For example, a couple of members in my book club thought that the fifth story, “Exhortation”, was a light one. When I explained my interpretation, they changed their minds.
In “Exhortation”, the director’s letter instructs the employees to have a good attitude towards their work. Doesn’t this sound like your job boss in a motivation meeting? Employees are told to get the job done quickly, instead of taking extra time thinking negatively about doing it. The bosses in headquarters are watching your numbers. They say the work is hard but important. Everyone has assignments to do.
Room 6 has especially hard tasks. Moping will take up precious me. If your numbers go down, someone else will take your place. You will be put on a “shelf” to be “cleaned”. Do not worry about whether what we are doing is right or wrong, good or bad. “Isn’t it fun when you don’t hold back, but just pound down and down, letting gravity help you?”
We then learn that Andy had a record-breaking October. Everyone is praising him. However, his numbers are slacking off now. He has been crying and regretting what he has done. It did not take me long to realize that the employees were killing people in Room 6. To be put on the “shelf” to be “cleaned” meant to be killed.
Some of the stories have some ambiguity. I did not see anything “positive” in any of them, but some people do. I think some people miss the point. However, there are many levels to these stories, and I may not have understood everything, as well. The stories are hardly superficial. They are worth another read.
Every story is amazing. Upper level short story writing. Probably the best living short story writer we have today. Highly recommended.
I cried in 75% of stories, I'd estimate.
People at their best in the worst possible situation. Saunders has spun several extraordinary tells in this collection
"A" for effort though. These kinds of stories are difficult to write. I'm glad that someone is making the effort, because when they work, they're really engaging.