Reviews for Tenth of December : Stories
Booklist Reviews 2012 December #1
*Starred Review* Saunders, a self-identified disciple of Twain and Vonnegut, is hailed for the topsy-turvy, gouging satire in his three previous, keenly inventive short story collections. In the fourth, he dials the bizarreness down a notch to tune into the fantasies of his beleaguered characters, ambushing readers with waves of intense, unforeseen emotion. Saunders drills down to secret aquifers of anger beneath ordinary family life as he portrays parents anxious to defang their children but also to be better, more loving parents than their own. The title story is an absolute heart-wringer, as a pudgy, misfit boy on an imaginary mission meets up with a dying man on a frozen pond. In "Victory Lap," a young-teen ballerina is princess-happy until calamity strikes, an emergency that liberates her tyrannized neighbor, Kyle, "the palest kid in all the land." In "Home," family friction and financial crises combine with the trauma of a court-martialed Iraq War veteran, to whom foe and ally alike murmur inanely, "Thank you for your service." Saunders doesn't neglect his gift for surreal situations. There are the inmates subjected to sadistic neurological drug experiments in "Escape from Spiderhead" and the living lawn ornaments in "The Semplica Girl Diaries." These are unpredictable, stealthily funny, and complexly affecting stories of ludicrousness, fear, and rescue. Copyright 2012 Booklist Reviews.
BookPage Reviews 2013 January
The humanity of Saunders' absurdism
George Saunders is one of the masters of the difficult art of the short story. In his latest collection, Tenth of December, wounded characters confront situations that range from slightly skewed to downright Orwellian.
In “Victory Lap,” a teenaged boy prevents a catastrophe by breaking all the rules his smothering, control-freak parents have laid down for him. In “Escape From Spiderhead,” prisoners are subjected to high-tech Milgramesque experiments where their emotions are manipulated, effortlessly, by intravenous drugs. The point of the exercise is uncertain to the prisoners, the experimenters and the reader, and the story is so matter of fact in its depiction of horror that the reader almost wishes she’d never read it. This is not the last story in which impossible but cleverly named psychotropic drugs will mess with the insides of people’s heads.
Saunders is a brilliant observer of weirdness—and a fierce believer in human connections.
Most of the stories are narrated by men, or have men as their protagonists. The boys are outsiders, either too fat or too nerdy, and many of the men have soul-crushing and even bizarre jobs. In “Exhortation,” a director urges his staff to keep up their “positive energy” for some task that has a whiff of both uselessness and nefariousness about it, lest their shady overlords grow extremely displeased.
At last, the reader comes to the title story. It’s about an unpopular schoolboy, a dying man and a frozen lake. A masterpiece that reveals the power of stubborn love and redemption, it seems, in a strange way, to make the suffering in the other stories worthwhile. In Tenth of December, Saunders proves that he’s both a brilliant observer of weirdness and a fierce believer in the connections that keep people going. Copyright 2012 BookPage Reviews.
Kirkus Reviews 2012 October #2
A new story collection from the most playful postmodernist since Donald Barthelme, with narratives that can be enjoyed on a number of different levels. Literature that takes the sort of chances that Saunders does is rarely as much fun as his is. Even when he is subverting convention, letting the reader know throughout that there is an authorial presence pulling the strings, that these characters and their lives don't exist beyond words, he seduces the reader with his warmth, humor and storytelling command. And these are very much stories of these times, filled with economic struggles and class envy, with war and its effects, with drugs that serve as a substitute for deeper emotions (like love) and perhaps a cure (at least temporary) for what one of the stories calls "a sort of vast existential nausea." On the surface, many of these stories are genre exercises. "Escape from Spiderhead" has all the trappings of science fiction, yet culminates in a profound meditation on free will and personal responsibility. One story is cast as a manager's memo; another takes the form of a very strange diary. Perhaps the funniest and potentially the grimmest is "Home," which is sort of a Raymond Carver working-class gothic send-up. A veteran returns home from war, likely suffering from post-traumatic stress. His foulmouthed mother and her new boyfriend are on the verge of eviction. His wife and family are now shacking up with a new guy. His sister has crossed the class divide. Things aren't likely to end well. The opening story, "Victory Lap," conjures a provisional, conditional reality, based on choices of the author and his characters. "Is life fun or scary?" it asks. "Are people good or bad?" The closing title story, the most ambitious here, has already been anthologized in a couple of "best of" annuals: It moves between the consciousness of a young boy and an older man, who develop a lifesaving relationship. Nobody writes quite like Saunders. Copyright Kirkus 2012 Kirkus/BPI Communications.All rights reserved.
Publishers Weekly Reviews 2012 November #1
The title of Saunders's fourth collection doesn't reference any regularly observed holiday, but for the MacArthur-certified genius's fans, a new collection, his first in six years, is a cause to celebrate. Yet the 10 stories here--six of which ran in the New Yorker--might make readers won over by earlier, irony-laced absurdities like Pastoralia's "Sea Oak" or corporate nightmares like "CommComm" from In Persuasion Nation question whether they know Saunders as well as they think they do. Yes, "Puppy" is about a maniacally upbeat mother on a "Family Mission" to adopt a dog only to discover the dog owner's son chained to a tree in the backyard "via some sort of doohicky." Yes, "Escape from Spiderhead" is about evil experiments to make love and take love away using drugs with names like Darkenfloxx™. But readers expecting zany escapism will be humbled by the pathos on display in stories like "Home," where a soldier returns to his humble origins. "Victory Lap" features a disarming case of child kidnapping, and "The Semplica Girl Diaries" is a heartbreaking chronicle of two months of changeable fortune in the life of a lower-middle-class paterfamilias of modest expectation ("graduate college, win Pam, get job, make babies, forget feeling of special destiny"). Eventually, a suspicion creeps in that, behind Saunders's comic talents, he might be the most compassionate writer working today. Agent: Esther Newberg, ICM. (Jan. 8) [Page ]. Copyright 2012 PWxyz LLC