Saturday, May 25, 2013

Tenth of December by George Saunders

George Saunders has already received so much praise for his masterful short stories that I hardly know what to add. His latest collection, Tenth of December, is a showcase for his energetic imagination. I love his life-affirming brand of surrealism. His stories are funny, dark and unsettling, but also tender, and very understanding of human foibles.

Saunders is also known for his stylistic innovation, so I'll give a few examples.

In The Semplica Girl Diaries, a father of three attempts to keep up with his more prosperous neighbours by acquiring an outrageous landscaping fad; live girls on display. It's written in the form of a daily journal.

"Note to self: Try to extend positive feelings with Scratch-Off win into all areas of life. Be bigger presence at work. Race up ladder (joyfully, w/smile on face), get raise. Get in best shape of life, start dressing nicer. Learn guitar?"

In Tenth of December, a man dying of cancer interrupts his suicide plans to rescue a child with a hyperactive imagination. The close third-person point of view shifts between the man and the boy. This is the child:

"He came out of the woods now to the prettiest vista he knew. The pond was a pure frozen white. It struck him as somewhat Switzerlandish. Someday he would know for sure. When the Swiss threw him a parade or whatnot."

In Victory Lap, a boy considers whether or not to disobey his parents' strict injunctions against interfering in someone else's business, when it appears that his neighbour is being kidnapped. Again, point of view alternates and we start in the mind of a teen girl, imagining she's descending a marble staircase, catching the eye of some adorable guy:

"Had he said, Let us go stand on the moon? If so, she would have to be like, {eyebrows up}. And if no wry acknowledgment was forthcoming, be like, Uh, I am not exactly dressed for standing on the moon, which, as I understand it, is super-cold?"

Several of the stories imagine a future with drugs tailored for every situation. Nostalgic theme parks are settings Saunders has used in his earlier collections, including Civilwarland in Bad Decline. Both feature in  My Chivalric Fiasco. where Ted, a historical interpreter, receives a hit of 'KnightLyfe' to help him get into his role.

"Martha: Ted. You okay?
To which I made Reply: Verily, I have not been Well, but Distracted & Remiss; but presently am Restored unto Myself, and hereby do make Copious Apology for my earlier Neglect with respect to Thee, dear Lady.
Martha: Easy there, Ted."

These stories are all fabulously entertaining. Enjoy.

Readalikes: Vampires in the Lemon Grove (Karen Russell); Pretty Monsters (Kelly Link); and Better Living Through Plastic Explosives (Zsuzsi Gartner).

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