Tenth of December, by George Saunders. Pub 2013
I was drawn to this book as it caught my eye during my January splurge, and I’ve always wanted to read one of his books. I’ve only read one story of his – Fox 8, published in The Guardian several years ago and since made into a book. He also has a prize winning novel, but I was more interested in the short stories since that first read.
The stories in this book are not depressing exactly, but very realistic in the telling of the social differences in America (and everywhere) and what those conditions lead to for ordinary people – middle managers, elderly, teenagers, veterans, men and women. He is remarkably good at presenting a female voice – his teenage girl in “Victory Lap” is astonishingly good – and he presents the Walter Mitty-like daydreams of the ordinary man with humour and pathos. He creates fantastic worlds that you understand completely with little description, perhaps because they are not fantastic at all but frighteningly real, and there is no preaching or social commentary, just story.
Several stories had me in a “I can’t put this down yet” grip (thank goodness for vacation), and while a few are on the long side for short stories, they do not feel that way at all. Favourites were “Escape from Spiderhead” (in which convicts volunteer for drug testing in a controlled environment) and “The Semplica Girl Diaries” (in which a gruesome yard display becomes a status symbol). But none of the stories felt lesser than or out of place with the others.
All of the stories in this collection were previously published in American magazines, dating back to 1995. It makes the collection all the more remarkable that the stories feel as real as they do today.
14 – a book with a number in the title
17 – a book of short stories