Sunday, February 10, 2013
Tenth of December by George Saunders
It is quite something to come across a writer of versatility and skill who doesn’t figure (now that they have your ear—you bought the book, didn’t you?) they will add more than they need just because they can. This is a slim volume of stories that all of us should have--to read, to cherish, and to share. Saunders has a distinct voice that reveals us as we are now. We may say that his stories do not have the language of the old masters, but they have the language we use now, but with more kindness, generosity of spirit, and humor mixed in than most of us can rustle up on an ordinary day.
In the “Afterword” to Although Of Course You End up Becoming Yourself, an extended interview with David Foster Wallace by David Lipsky writing for Rolling Stone magazine, Lipsky says of Wallace’s style that he wrote “the stuff you semi-thought, the background action you blinked through at supermarkets and commutes.” You heard it, you know it, but it doesn’t register enough for you to articulate and consider. Wallace was able to do that, and Saunders does it also. He reaches in and gets that real thing that you discarded, shines it, and shows you how it defines us.
If I could ask him, I would ask Saunders how he chose which stories to include in this volume. He spans the range of us, with these stories, starting out in the mind of suburban teenagers looking at each other with longing or appraisal (”Victory Lap”), and ends with a gentleman of great age descending the staircase of dementia to his grave (”Tenth of December”). In between we catch glimpses of ourselves as returning soldiers filled with anger and hope (”Home”), twenty-somethings undergoing moral and medical testing (”Escape from Spiderhead”), and middle-aged parents aching to give their children more than they themselves had growing up (”The Semplica Girl Diaries”).
Saunders is funny, kind, precise with his sword-thrusts which reach the heart but do not kill. I do not think we need ask “where do you get your inspiration?” since echoes of Mao Zedong ring through ”Exhortation,” and we also know the zany neighbor in ”Sticks”, or can imagine the source of the internal dialogue in ”My Chivalric Fiasco”. These people are us, and he treats us gently and allows us to laugh, with regret sometimes, with recognition at other times. But he doesn’t laugh at us and we don’t laugh with cynicism. We are grateful to Saunders because, despite his pointing out our failings and our shortcomings, we can sense he still likes us, and even celebrates our efforts in trying to make sense of, and make our way in, this crazy world.
I have too many favorite bits to single one out. But perhaps after all, my favorite bit is the fact that he doesn’t use too many words. It is honed and toned and polished and clear and gets to the heart of the matter. It isn’t a long book, so you can easily find your own favorite bit. It’s all good. Go out and buy it. This is one you will want to reread: you will read it when you are happy, and you will read it when you are sad, you will read to see how he did that.
You can buy this book here: Tweet