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
The Short Story is not my thing. Actually, there are a lot of "not my things" in regards to reading. I am so picky, and demand so much in an author, that I embarrass myself. It is apparent by the reviews that I am not the only one who notes that Saunders writes in a way that captivates most audiences. Similar to the way that Stephen King captures his readers, Saunders takes the naked word and strings them together with simplicity and a uniqueness that reaches a wide span of readers. In The Tenth of December, this talent shines through as Saunders donates "slices of life" to the reader. He has the ability, during the course of a ten minute short story, to introduce, evolve, and bring closure to his characters within their moment in time. The first selection, for example, addresses the most intense and sensitive subject out there. Yet, Saunders somehow manages to amuse the reader while maintaining reverance to the subject matter, and allows the characters we have grown to love (in 10 minutes!) to triumph in the end.
Say something about yourself!
Sometimes you just have to set a book down. Then, by all means, pick it up again. Not because it isn't good, but because its like a chocolate torte, and should be eaten in small bites in order to savor it. Because too much chocolate is just…ewewh. So, be warned, this book is funny, in a quirky type of way. Which I guess is exactly what the author was going for, so don't be afraid to put it down between stories and just….roll it around in your mouth so to speak, before you pick it up and listen to more. As good as these stories are, I am baffled as to why the author felt he should read them himself. But, maybe he was in a hurry, or didn't know anyone who narrates, or for whatever the reason, don't let his somewhat stilted narration stop you from enjoying it. Just…small bites. That's my advice, small, digestible bites.
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.
Saunders is a formalist who loves to play with form. He is also funny, also witty. His characters are put through excruciating trials. They are often not bright. They are very earnest. Their relatives and bosses are often not bright, and are often also earnest. Everyone in these stories is suspended somewhere below the middle of a brutal pecking order.
But unlike other sardonic cool guys who are better and smarter than their characters (I'm looking at you, Sam Lipsyte), Saunders is not cruel. In fact, these stories are suffused with empathy and tenderness. Even while admiring some amazing feat of form or concept, I often found myself, halted on my morning walk, in tears for these characters.
I've only read Saunders in the occasional story he publishes in the The New Yorker, and have always relished their strange richness. A whole book of these stories is quite a bit more rich, and strange, so I listened to just one or two at a time. Not just because there's a lot to think about, but because there's also a lot to feel about.
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 :)
Loved how I never knew which way the author was going to take me as I began each new story. Shocking, sometimes disturbing, but always thoughtful and deep. Social consciousness peppered in to let us examine our choices and how they may end up as new social norms in the future. Very much appreciated, as many norms emerge without much thought as to the consequences.
One of the best listens in my long list of Audible purchases. George Saunders nails the characters as only an author can.
The characters hail from an intriguing array of situations, not all true to life, yet one finds something relatable in (almost) all.
Cudos to George Saunders!
Say something about yourself!
George Saunders's tales of a vast suburban wasteland fit the times. It's a bit uneven, but It's worth the price of admission for the first tale, "Victory Lap" and the last, "Tenth of December" both of which I listened to twice. I also enjoyed hearing the author read his own stories.
For those who don't know his work, Saunders is at once very accessible yet profound, with a few sci-fi elements, but really centered around the human mind. He creates fictional worlds to explain our inner world, that is the best way I can think of to explain.
What a treat to have Saunders himself narrate his own work. Now I sometimes hear his voice narrating my own thoughts. Weird. Loved these stories and have listened twice through already. Reading more in print, but look forward to more Saunders-narrated audiobooks hopefully.
I would never be able to answer this question, but I can say this: George Saunders reads his own book in the way that I always wish authors could do. I'm not sure even my favorite actors could have spoken from inside these characters in this hilarious and poignant manner.
George Saunders reads his own book in the way that I always wish authors could do. I'm not sure even my favorite actors could have spoken from inside these characters in this hilarious and poignant manner.
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