Tenth of December: Stories by George Saunders

Summary from Goodreads:

George Saunders, one of our most important writers, is back with a masterful, deeply felt collection that takes his literary powers to a new level. In a recent interview, when asked how he saw the role of the writer, Saunders said: "To me, the writer's main job is to make the story unscroll in such a way that the reader is snared-she's right there, seeing things happen and caring about them. And if you dedicate yourself to this job, the meanings more or less take care of themselves." In Tenth of December, the reader is always right there, and the meanings are beautiful and profound and abundant. The title story is an exquisite, moving account of the intersection, at a frozen lake in the woods, of a young misfit and a middle-aged cancer patient who goes there to commit suicide, only to end up saving the boy's life. "Home" is the often funny, often poignant account of a soldier returning from the war. And "Victory Lap" is a taut, inventive story about the attempted abduction of a teenage girl. In all, Tenth of December is George Saunders at his absolute best, a collection of stories and characters that add up to something deep, irreducible, and uniquely American.

Tenth of December is a collection of ten stories not really related to each other except for tone and mood. There is a story about an abduction, about a dad who has a strange way of coping with his wife's death, about a family selling a puppy, about a modern drug testing reasearch center, about a workplace memo, about a father striving to provide the best for his kids starting with buying semplica girls (girls who are strung up as lawn ornaments), about a returning war veteran who has some unresolved issues, about a down on his luck antique store owner, about a work place sexual harassment, about a cancer stricken father contemplating suicide. But what is striking in George Saunders stories is the use of informal language. Slang even. Heavily punctuated and fragmented sentences. But surprisingly, they all pack a wallop. Despite the use of words like "like" and "Haha!", they convey so much truth and honesty. Saunders also treats his stories and characters with much affection. They all tackle dark, heavy, and serious topics but there is a certain sensitivity and warmth and kindness underneath. And I am not to forget the wit and the humor he infuses them with, which does not in any way make light of the grim situations but instead makes one realize and comprehend their gravity. 

The biggest standout from among the ten stories for me is the Semplica Girl Diaries. It's written as journal entries by a middle class father who strives to provide his kids with the rich and stylish lifestyle similar to that of one of their daughter's friend. The father soon finds in his hands, an unexpected windfall, a winning lottery ticket. He cashes it in throws the best birthday party for his little girl. And buys the ultimate status symbol, the Semplica Girls. These are a group of young immigrant women strung together and erected upon your lawn as a decorative piece. Strange right? But oddly enough, it never took me out of the story. I did not feel disjointed by the sudden presence of this fantastical element, in a story about contemporary life. It is such a seamless integration, that it all just seems so realistic in the end. And there is such an intense honesty and love in the father's journal entries that it's heartbreaking. Saunders, with this story, also drives home with laser beam precision, how much of materialism can be found in our culture. Other favorites would be: Victory Lap and Escape from Spiderhead. 

I believe that Tenth of December will be among my surprisingly loved reads this year. It is an intensely insightful collection of stories. It shows a deep understanding of social life and despite tackling dire and serious topics, it never got me down and left me instead with  that bright light feeling of hope.

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