Although the year has just begun, George Saunders’ “Tenth of December” is sure to become one of 2013’s most prominent and talked-about works of fiction.
“Tenth of December” is a collection of ten short stories, in which Saunders brilliantly and frankly explores human emotion through original storytelling. Saunders is a renowned and highly regarded American writer — recently a New York Times Magazine article featured him under the headline “George Saunders Has Written the Best Book You’ll Read This Year.” Some, like Texas-native writer and Syracuse University professor Mary Karr, have called him the best short-story writer in English alive, and others, like British novelist Zadie Smith, have compared him to Mark Twain.
“Tenth of December,” Saunders’ fourth collection of short stories, does not disappoint, and sets the bar even higher for future works. In this collection, Saunders deals with everything that is human by illuminating raw emotion with well-rounded and flawed characters that make each story engaging and thought-provoking.
While some of Saunders’ stories evoke a powerful emotional response with simple, everyday situations, a few of his stories are incredibly bizarre, with plots and settings that can astound readers. Saunders tackles the often visited themes of torture, immigration and class systems using original ideas in his fiction.
In “Escape from Spiderhead,” prison inmates are subject to drug tests that evoke a range of artificial emotions which only last as long as the drug is being pumped into them. Various drugs make subjects fall in love with each other, develop an enhanced vocabulary and experience a kind of internal agony so painful they slam their heads into walls as a means of escape. In “The Semplica-Girl Diaries,” a story set in the somewhat distant but not-too-far future, a family partakes in a growing trend among the rich of purchasing immigrants from third-world countries to float above their front yard in white gowns as a lawn decoration. This “service” is an immigrant’s key to eventual citizenship in the United States.
“The Semplica Girl Diaries” is Saunders’ longest piece. It takes up 60 pages of the ten-story, 272-page book. Not all of Saunders’ stories are this long. His shortest, “Sticks”, does not even take up a full two pages. But the brevity of “Sticks,” a short story about a father who spends a good portion of his life dressing up a pole stuck in his front yard, does not hamper the tale at all. In actuality, the piece’s sudden and abrupt conclusion impacts the story’s themes of death and loss.
While Saunders’ stories switch between a variety of themes, issues and genres, he also alternates between style and storytelling methods with ease. Some of his stories are told in an elegant voice. Other tales work outside normal grammatical conventions with simple language and are often just a conscious stream of thoughts.
The stories in “Tenth of December” are not easy reads — they require an incredible attention to detail. Each story will cause the reader to stop and ponder, as all significant literature should. Saunders has brought his best in the “Tenth of December”, guaranteeing his novel will remain apart of conversations for months to come.
Published on January 14, 2013 as "Short story collection promises to please".