Friday, July 5, 2013

Tenth of December

Tenth of December by George Saunders (2013)

This short story collection has been greatly lauded since it was published earlier this year. I try not to be drawn in by hype and almost skipped it, but remembered how much I enjoyed Saunders' book of essays The Braindead Megaphone. Indeed, I flew through this little book in a couple of days of a busy weekend. It's short but it's so easy to get sucked into his stories so I was through the book before I knew it.

The narrative voices are just amazingly real and clever, and I think that's what propelled me through this collection so quickly. It's hard to describe, but it's very conversational and entertaining and wonderfully fun.

One aspect of his essay collection that had struck me was just how creative and original his writing is, and that's true here as well. As real as the voices and characters are, there are some unexpected elements to some of the stories. "Escape from Spiderhead", which I had already read in The Best American Short Stories 2011, is a piece of science fiction but others have just elements of something that is a bit different, or off.

I think my favorite story was "The Semplica Girl Diaries," which takes place in a world that we're familiar with to a family struggling to keep up with their wealthy neighbors. But one common way to outwardly display wealth is through yard displays of something called SGs. SGs turn out to be domestic workers, immigrants from places like the Philippines and Somalia, who are strung up in arrangements in one's yard. It's justified in the same way we justify hiring women from these countries to clean our houses - their lives are better here, they really need the money to send home to their families, etc. It's a great idea for the story, but what makes it such a standout is that it's written as diary entries from the man who hires them. His struggles as a provider and a father made me sympathize with him and laugh at him at the same time.

It's difficult to write about short story collections because there are so many different stories and characters so you can't really summarize. I will say that I liked every single story in Tenth of December and that they were all very different from each other. Saunders is able to evoke a wide array of emotions in his writing, but through it all is his crazy and wonderful brand of humor. Highly recommended!

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