By George Saunders (no website)
Available now from Random House
George Saunders is widely regarded as one of the masters of the short story and his newest collection, TENTH OF DECEMBER, has be widely praised as some of his best and most accessible work. I found it to be like most short story collections: some of the stories are great, some are good, some are meh.
Saunders does have style, though sometimes his style comes at the cost of the story. His style is excellent for getting inside of his characters' heads and bringing each narrator to life. And somehow, those his style is consistent, the narrators don't all sound the same. TENTH OF DECEMBER's longest story, "The Semplica-Girl Diaries," was not included in the ARC. It is, however, free to read at The New Yorker.
"The Semplica-Girl Diaries" is one of the weaker stories in the collection, but a good introduction the anthology's contents. And why is it weaker? Well, it's centered on a brilliant image. One that's gruesome but funny, skewering materialism in a Three Stooges manner. But it's structured in journal entries, and the epistolary form kills much of the momentum the story could have.
In my opinion, the best story in the collection is "Escape from Spiderhead," previously collected in The Best American Short Stories 2011. It's a futuristic tale of a man participating in an increasingly brutal lab experiment. It's a chilling exploration of love and human empathy, or the lack of it. It could be totally bleak, but the ending is strangely uplifting.
Some of the other stories I really enjoyed are "Exhortation," an odd little story that mocks corporate speak perfectly and "My Chivalric Fiasco," which combines strange theme parks, ye olde English, and an ill-timed affair. I would probably include "Victory Lap" in this list if the ending made more sense on a character level.
TENTH OF DECEMBER didn't persuade me to join the cult of George Saunders. But it's at least worth checking out from your library in order to read the best stories.