Tenth of December Stories

Tenth of December Stories

January 2013

"Victory Lap": A young girl named Alison is kidnapped three days before her birthday. "Sticks": A father has a tall pole in the front yard that he constantly decorates for holidays."Puppy": Two women, Marie and Callie, lead ve...

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272 Pages
3.5

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Book Content


"Victory Lap": A young girl named Alison is kidnapped three days before her birthday. "Sticks": A father has a tall pole in the front yard that he constantly decorates for holidays."Puppy": Two women, Marie and Callie, lead very different lives. "Escape from Spiderhead": Because he was convicted of a crime, Jeff has been sent to an experimental prison where inhabitants are guinea pigs for a man named Ray Abnesti, a sort of warden who develops pharmaceuticals."Exhortation"A letter from a man named Todd, the boss of a group of men who do mysterious work in Room 6, "Al Roosten": An unsuccessful antique store owner is involved in a charity event in which he must dress up and walk down a runway in order to earn money. "The Semplica Girl Diaries"A middle-class father attempts to please his daughter Lilly and compete with a wealthier family by buying her various lavish gifts, including Semplica Girls, women trafficked from third-world countries to be used as human lawn ornaments."Home":A soldier named Mikey returns to live with his mother and has to learn to adapt to the new world. "My Chivalric Fiasco": Ted, a janitor, witnesses the rape of fellow employee Martha by Don Murray, the boss of the Medieval theme park where Ted works. "Tenth of December"A cancer patient seeking to euthanize himself in the woods meets a boy who teaches the patient about himself.

Tenth of December is a collection of short stories by American author George Saunders. It includes stories published in various magazines between 1995 and 2009. The book was published on January 8, 2013, by Random House. One of the stories, "Home," was a 2011 Bram Stoker Award finalist. Tenth of December was selected as one of the 10 Best Books of 2013 by the editors of the New York Times Book Review. The collection also won the 2013 Story Prize for short-story collections[3] and the inaugural (2014) Folio Prize.

George Saunders (born December 2, 1958) is an American writer of short stories, essays, novellas, children's books, and novels. His writing has appeared in The New Yorker, Harper's, McSweeney's, and GQ. He also contributed a weekly column, American Psyche, to the weekend magazine of The Guardian between 2006 and 2008.

 

A professor at Syracuse University, Saunders won the National Magazine Award for fiction in

 1994,1996, 2000, and 2004, and second prize in the O. Henry Awards in 1997. His first story

collection, CivilWarLand in Bad Decline, was a finalist for the 1996 PEN/Hemingway Award. In 2006 Saunders received a MacArthur Fellowship. In 2006 he won the World Fantasy Award for his short story "CommComm".

His story collection In Persuasion Nation was a finalist for the Story Prize in 2007. In 2013, he won the PEN/Malamud Award and was a finalist for the National Book Award. Saunders's Tenth of December: Stories won the 2013 Story Prize for short-story collections and the inaugural (2014) Folio Prize. His novel Lincoln in the Bardo (Bloomsbury Publishing) won the 2017 Man Booker Prize.

Tenth of December"  An un-named cancer patient goes to the woods to kill himself, but meets a boy who teaches him more about himself than he ever knew before and changes the way in which he thinks about his decision to take his own life.

Review:

theguardian.com

David Wolf

George Saunders – Texas-born, Chicago-raised, seven books, many prizes, satirist, Buddhist – is one of America's best short-story writers. But reading his new collection, Tenth of December, it seems like he's stuck. Saunders emerged fully formed with his 1996 debut, Civilwarland in Bad Decline. That book was met with whoops of joy: "scary, hilarious and unforgettable" announced Tobias Wolff; "wildly funny, pure, generous" applauded Garrison Keillor; "graceful, dark, authentic, and funny" cheered Thomas Pynchon (Thomas Pynchon!). A pre-Infinite Jest David Foster Wallace declared in an interview: "The person I'm highest on right now is George Saunders."

 

Since then, Saunders has remained faithful to the short-story form, painstakingly crafting new pieces, which land in the New Yorker or some other classy US magazine once every three or four months. His new collection is his first in six years. For those familiar with Saunders, it is undoubtedly more of a good thing. Trouble is, it's also more of the same.

 

Tenth of December presents 10 visions of America mostly filtered through the eyes of losers with one-syllable names such as Al and Kyle and Jeff. The stories tend to take place in self-contained suburban or small-town settings. No one here is successful or cool. Sometimes they are uncool in a virtuous way. Sometimes they are uncool and mean. The narrator of one story (his name is Ted) has the hesitant, disappointed voice of a typical Saunders protagonist: "Based on my experience of life, which I have not exactly hit out of the park, I tend to agree with that thing about, If it's not broke, don't fix it."

 

As usual with Saunders, the first thing you notice is the language, the exhilarating explosion of slang, neologisms, fake product names. The reader is wired into the protagonists' heads, the stories told either in the first person or in a third person that moulds itself around the characters' thoughts, taking on their voices. The first story, "Victory Lap", toggles between the perspective of Alison, a 14-year-old girl with delusions of grandeur ("The local boys possessed a certain je ne sais quoi, which, tell the truth, she was not très crazy about"); Kyle, a teenage dork in love with Alison ("In the dictionary under 'beauty' there should be a picture of her in that jean skirt"); and an unnamed murderer/rapist who attempts to abduct Alison ("If fuckwise it went good they'd pick up the freeway from there. Basically steal the van"). Few writers are so good at transcribing thought – Saunders never jams his own observations into his characters' mouths and he is especially skilful at mimicking the way fantasies and daydreams colour the way we think.

 

The distance between the characters' hopes and the reality of their situations is one of the themes Saunders returns to throughout Tenth of December. In "Al Roosten", for instance, the title character, a "round bald guy", boils with jealousy and self-loathing as he considers a richer, happier, better-looking acquaintance. Al is a masterful study of impotent rage, Dostoevsky's Underground Man transported to small-town America and stuffed into a gondolier outfit for a charity fundraising event.

 

Yet for all the successful stories, some of Tenth of December feels like it could have been lifted straight out of Saunders's previous collections. Set in a medieval-themed amusement park, "My Chivalric Fiasco" is a little too close to the caveman- and civil war-themed amusement parks seen in his earlier work. The fake product names in "Escape from Spiderhead" (MobiPak™, ViviStif™, Darkenfloxx™) recall his other product names (I Can Speak™, Aurabon® etc). And for a writer with such a great ear, it's a pity Saunders so often returns to characters with the same voice – the naive, slightly childish, slightly too literal guy who says things such as, "I knew Don Murray was her boss because Don Murray was also my boss" or "I could not help but wonder what tomorrow would bring".

 

If this collection does edge in a new direction, it is in Saunders's slight shuffle towards realism, away from the more wildly imaginative stories that dominated his earlier books (there is no sword-wielding packet of Doritos in this collection, for instance). One standout example is "Home", the story of a soldier's return from an unnamed war in the Middle East. Plot-wise there's nothing new here – Mike is suffering from something like post-traumatic stress disorder, the home he returns to is not the one he remembers, he feels alienated from everyone he meets. Yet the story unfolds in such an understated, unsentimental and funny way that by the end, it is impossibly moving. "Thank you for your service", becomes a bleak punchline, as everyone robotically delivers the same refrain to Mike.

 

Saunders has always balanced his satirical urges with genuine warmth and affection for his characters. And while critics often compare him to Mark Twain, Kurt Vonnegut and the master of deadpan absurdism, Donald Barthelme, an equally apt touchstone might be The Simpsons. Like Matt Groening's creation, the stories in Tenth of December mix crude and sophisticated satire of American life with an essentially warm-hearted, optimistic worldview. "Goodness is not only possible, it is our natural state," says Saunders in the book's acknowledgements. When his characters do bad things, it is usually because they are corrupted – by parents, by advertising, by pressure to get ahead, to be successful. Most of the time, though, they are just ordinary people doing the best they can.

 

 

 

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