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".
©2013 George Saunders (P)2013 Random House Audio
English major. Love to read
I suppose for some, these kind of edgy stories might be commonplace, but, honestly, I have never read anything like this book. I am used to going from point A to point B with all of the numerous offshoots that an author can muster but I just had to hold on with this journey. The stories are complex, strange and wonderfully buoyant. They are beautifully written so I never let go of where Saunders chose to take me - I loved this read. One needs to be pushed off one's assumptions every once in a while.
A part-time buffoon and ersatz scholar specializing in BS, pedantry, schmaltz and cultural coprophagia.
I'm late to the George Saunders fan club, but Tenth of December was amazing. Belongs on the same shelf as Pynchon, McCarthy and DFW in the pantheon of amazing American writers. He has a voice that captures the depth and vibrations of America's modern tragicomedy. He dances on the same ground as David Foster Wallace. The sophistication of his prose is amazing. He writes on a tightrope of madness and morality. There were a couple stories that were objectively only four stars, but emotionally, I wanted to finish this collection of short stories and run out and buy, beg or steal all Saunders other work. If that isn't a reason to give a book five stars, well my whole system of celestial ratings is completely F-ed.
Saunders has a unique writing style that is perfectly expressed by his own narration. It's not always a good idea for an author to read his/her own works---narration is usually better left to the professionals---but in this case it works. I can't imagine these stories in anyone else's voice. This is a mind-blowing work worthy of the praise he's getting, such as the New York Times already naming this the best book of the year.
So hooked by audio that I have to read books aloud. *If my reviews help, please let me know.
"The best art has its reference points in real life." By Carver's definition, Tenth of December is the best art. Saunders looks at people in the context of our culture and reflects them back through his writing with unflinching accuracy. It's acerbic, dark, even frightening, and at the same time Saunders can elicit a contradictory pathos and humor, that brings us back to the yin and yang of real life, like no other author. It is that tragicomic element and Saunders' compassion that keeps the light twinkling in some dark moments in these stories.
I had read a few of these vignettes in The New Yorker, and had read Civilwarland in Bad Decline before this purchase. This compilation of stories is a bit of a departure from Saunders previous writing and seems also more human and real. The characters are challenged or damaged by societal judgements, relationships, the roll of the dice...but there is a redemptive quality that comes through in each situation. The interior monologues are just brilliant; authentic, whether it is a 14 yr. old diva who realizes she has just opened the door to a murderous rapist (Victory Lap, my favorite) or an old man dying of cancer and bent on suicide (Tenth of December). Saunders gets into their heads--the reference point feels as real as it gets, your emotional response to the stories tells you so.
I can't recall ever seeing so many literary giants' names attached to a book, like *Product Placement/Integration*, by the critics...Vonnegut, Pynchon, Twain, Checkhov, Orwell, Hemmingway, Barthelme, Wallace, Joyce, and O'Connor...but Saunders is an original that is genius. This truly may be "the best book you'll read this year." [NYTimes]
Bonus that Saunders reads his own work, but he speaks rapidly and words run together-- you may want to keep your device at regular speed instead of 2x. With the quick shifts of character consciousness, there are times that it's also difficult to distinguish which character is speaking. For readers that aren't sure about reading a volume of short stories, this is a great collection by an author that is considered the master of the genre. The 10 stories have different themes and pacing; you experience a bubble effect that I preferred to savour rather than jump immediately into the next story. Short stories are perfect for days when that *real life* conflicts with the desire to read all day.
I focus on fiction, sci-fi, fantasy, science, history, politics and read a lot. I try to review everything I read.
These stories are all modern, somewhat dark, explorations into the meaning of the mind, emotions, belief, and will. As such, the language, situations and characters may be quite off-putting to many. Question such as how malleable are our deepest desires and is romantic love simply a chemical reaction may be uncomfortable questions to explore. I don’t mind uncomfortable and found these stories fascinating, thought provoking and enjoyable. None of these stories were predicable, commonplace, or simplistic (the most common sins of the short story). The author’s narration is excellent, bringing subtle emotions to the unusual characters in unfamiliar situations. Sometimes the characters are talking fast, so the listener has to be attentive. Many of the stories border on science fiction but remain firmly literary explorations. I would not recommend these stories for young/pre-teens or the faint of heart. This is probably not the best book you will read this year, but it is a good listen if you appreciate looking at all sides of human emotions.
Definitely, but I would warn them they need to be able to laugh at our dark side
George is a genius and hearing him read his work made it all the more interesting.
No duds to be found in this short story collection. What I like is how unassuming the 'tagonists are. (They aren't really 'pro-' or 'ant-'.) Many of the characters have a fragile psyche and plenty of self-doubt and guilt for everyone. The prose remains fascinating and unpredictable, juxtaposing an impressive vocabulary with the simple internalizing that usually goes unspoken. As with any writer, it was cool to see recurring themes, phrases, and concepts that he circled back to, and yet I never knew where each story was ultimately headed. There was social commentary, sci-fi, po-mo, slice-of-life family drama set in the near future, and ultimately a large amount of creativity. I also found a few of his articles in the New Yorker to be entertaining/thought-provoking. He reads his own work well, and sounds good sped up to the 1.25 setting.
I bought this yesterday, listened to it yesterday and am starting over again today. I love these stories.
Some of the stories kind of remind me of a Wes Anderson script, but darker- dry, smart, funny...and I loved hearing him read the stories, I think, had I read them myself, I would have had a different interpretation on some. He writes like I speak, but smarter.
Anyway- I loved it, listening again and I'm sure I'll listen many times over, and buy the book so I can underline clever sentences- the writing is just wonderful- so much to love about this book :)
Funny, Insightful, Heartbreaking
These characters are so flawed and make such terrible decisions that they are sort of a parody of the dark side of human nature, and yet, they are so funny and sweet and rendered in such an interesting way that you can't help but love them in spite of their exasperating mistakes and misunderstandings.
I have read all of Saunders' previous story collections and essays on paper and loved them, but to hear them read in his own voice, with his local-guy Midwestern accent was really a treat. The stories are really suited to oral story-telling. I would love to see Saunders read Civilwarland, Pastoralia and In Persuasion Nation for Audible, as well.
Some of the story titles are works of art in themselves. I particularly liked, "My Chivalric Fiasco".
If you have ever wondered why people seem to act against their own best interests, if you have ever wondered how people get into debt, or why people sometimes seem to treat one another cruelly, George Saunders characters are beautiful portals into the lives of people whom you might not otherwise understand. You understand what it is like to be a moody teenager, a sensitive child, soldier home from a war zone, a guy stuck in a soul-sucking job, or a parent who just wants his or her kids to have a childhood a little less painful than his or her own. If the intent of a literary work is get you to willingly inhabit the life of another and look at the world through his or her eyes, this collection is a literary accomplishment.
Gen-Xer, software engineer, and lifelong avid reader. Soft spots for sci-fi, fantasy, and history, but I'll read anything good.
This was my introduction to George Saunders, but, man, the guy’s brilliant. The pieces here are all set in everyday America or in slightly dystopic versions of everyday America, with protagonists who are worn-down everyday people muddling through their lives -- standard lit-fic stuff. However, Saunders does some creative, funny, warped things with his stories and gets inside his characters heads with such brutal but compassionate honesty, I wondered how other writers could miss that rich, absurd stream-of-consciousness we all have going as we fumble through life.
The first story sets the tone by giving us the thoughts of a popular teenage girl contemplating her own preciousness right up the moment she notices she’s about to be kidnapped by a dangerous creep. Her only hope of salvation lies with the weird, unpopular boy next store, whose thoughts we also get, as he wonders how his bizarrely overprotective parents will respond to any choice he might make. Then we get the thoughts of the creep himself, who seems to be a few spoons short of a full silver drawer. Nothing about this scenario *should* be funny, yet it was hard for me not to laugh at the way each character rationalizes his or her actions.
Some story premises are more absurd or surreal than others. A guy working as a lowly bit actor at a Renaissance Faire witnesses a misdeed by his boss, and would have meekly let it slide, except the pill he takes to put himself into character works a little too well, transforming him into a noble knight whose beautifully oblivious chivalry makes a mess of things. A suburban dad with perpetual cash flow problems and a desperate desire to keep up with the Joneses decides to start a journal in which he shares his hopes and woes with the no doubt more enlightened people of the future, but as the story progresses, it sneaks up on us that this world has one odd feature... Then there’s the devastating Escape From Spiderhead, in which consciousness-altering drugs are tested on prison inmates.
The “straightforward” stories work beautifully, too. A young veteran with a dark wartime experience in his past returns home to his dysfunctional family and their oblivious neighbors, who treat him with that uncomfortable deference veterans often get, which leaves him feeling all the more disconnected. A loner boy living in an imaginary world encounters a mentally ill man who has escaped from a care facility and is bent on suicide, until something the boy does forces him to change his plans. Not all readers will like the darkness and the pitiful characters, but the internal monologues Saunders gives us are both poignant and hilarious, true to the rambling stream of fantasies, self-justifications, and self-examinations we all have going in our heads, as we try to be the heroes of our own stories, however unremarkable they may be.
I should mention that Saunders narrates his audiobook and is, like David Sedaris, someone whose work you really have to hear in his own voice to get the full effect. He goes fast and some stories are a little confusing if you miss a key detail, but I really didn’t mind giving a few a second listen. An American master of voice.
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