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Tenth of December: Stories Audible – Unabridged

3.4 out of 5 stars 1,002 customer reviews

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Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
Update: One story that was left out of this collection, "Fox 8: A Story," has been released as a Kindle Single. It's brilliant - very funny, but also touching.

George Saunders is my favorite writer, so this review is biased. An Amazon reviewer said these stories left him/her feeling disturbed and uncomfortable. That is exactly what I enjoy about them. I think that means that the writer is reaching the reader, and that something is being said in the stories.

Saunders' stories are great because they are in tune with the experience of living today. I find them very entertaining, but also cathartic, because they bring expression to things that I feel and experience but that few are able to express.

Flannery O'Connor wrote "The way to despair is to refuse to have any kind of experience, and the novel, of course, is a way to have experience." Great writing can be as affecting as experience, which can be uncomfortable and disturbing.
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Format: Hardcover
Sometimes morbid, sometimes zany, often touching, and always original, the stories collected in Tenth of December are written in a light, conversational style -- typically the kind of conversation you'd have with someone who is a little dim -- that conceals their deeper meaning. Many of the characters are like the parents or children you're glad you never had.

My favorite story, "Victory Lap," begins in the mind of Alison, a fifteen-year-old girl whose internal commentary on Eleanor Roosevelt, her ethics teacher's husband's affair, her own ignorance, and the dorkiness of Kyle Boot is, to use Alison's favorite word, awesome. The story then shifts to the scattered mind of Kyle Boot (favorite word: "gar"), whose chance of pleasing his anal-retentive father is nil and whose thoughts are filled with imaginative curses that he would never dare say out loud. When Kyle sees a man trying to kidnap Alison, he must choose between intervening and finishing his chores. The story develops a new layer of oddness when we enter the mind of the kidnapper. The ending is surprisingly sweet as humor and horror give way to karma.

The title story is another standout. Robin is a pale, blubberish boy who invents his own martial arts system (Deadly Forearms) to fight the Nethers. Eber, old and rail-thin, no longer seems real to himself. Both Robin and Eber constantly engage in imagined conversations. When Robin spots Eber (thinking he may be a Nether) walking around a frozen pond, Robin makes it his heroic mission to deliver Eber's coat to him without realizing why Eber left the coat behind. The story is a bittersweet combination of humor and sorrow and inspiration.
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By AvisE on December 13, 2013
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
I just don't 'get' what passes for satire these days in American fiction, and this book is a perfect example of this. I found it trite, stereotyped and worst of all, boring. After reading the reviews and the introduction to the book I was expecting sheer brilliance but all I found were very conventional morality tales and clichéd characters wrapped in supposedly 'experimental' writing (reading the Semplica Girl Diaries made me feeling like I was reading Bridget Jones' Diary. Note to self: Do not always believe rave reviews!). Is this really what is considered great writing today? There are a few humorous moments but they weren't enough to redeem the book beyond 2 stars for me. The writing is very stream-of-consciousness and quite simple despite the vocabulary, and I just don't understand how it can be classed as ground-breaking.

My feeling is that the ivory tower critics who have lauded this book find it highly daring that Saunders writes about the lower classes and shows that they actually have moral dilemmas (!) and touches on subjects like exploitation of the third world/war veterans etc. That he does it in such a condescending way that merely reinforces stereotypes about "poor white trash" must be inherently comforting to some.

One of the biggest problems I had with the book was that every single character has practically the same voice which makes the stories very monotonous and gives the impression that all of these people are the same. In the introduction Saudners states that the used to be an Ayn Rand type of guy before his experiences taught him to see the world differently. After reading this book I don't think he's as far removed from Ayn Rand's worldview as he believes.

The world is desperately in need of social satire that addresses the ludicrous contradictions of our times, and I believe this partly explains the positive reception this book has received, but The Tenth of December fell short for me.
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Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
I found it interesting that this book places the only two somewhat upbeat stories in the collection at the beginning and the end, as if the editor thought that doing this might help to disguise the unremitting darkness of the stories that make up most of the book. I'm afraid the effect is more along the lines of a gloom sandwich, in which the relatively upbeat slices of bread do little to mask the depressive filling.

Of course, my reaction is largely a matter of personal taste. I think George Saunders is a remarkable writer and a true artist, but for me, there's just too much darkness and ugliness in this collection to stomach.

Some notes on selected stories:

"Victory Lap" is the opening story, and therefor one of the two fairly upbeat pieces I mentioned. It indulges in an engaging playfulness with language (as do most of the stories in this collection, to some extent), but apart from that I found it a story with unrealistic characters in an unrealistic situation that comes to an unrealistic conclusion.

"Puppies" extends that playfulness with language into the realm of just-plain-hard-to-read. I was reminded of a recent quote from Booker Prize judge Peter Strothard, stating that literary works of art "have to offer a degree of resistance." This story offers resistance in spades, and in return for chewing through that resistance you get one of the most gruelingly dark stories I've ever read. In this story and a few others, it feels to me that Saunders is approaching outright sadism toward his characters.

"Escape from Spiderhead" is another example of this.
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