Book Review – Tenth of December

04_book reviewTENTH OF DECEMBER
By George Saunders
George Saunders, who teaches creative writing at Syracuse University, won a prestigious MacArthur “genius grant” fellowship in 2006.

He is wearing the mantle well. This new collection of short stories comes with heavy-hitters on his dust jacket piling on the praise: David Foster Wallace, Zadie Smith, Thomas Pynchon, Tobias Wolff, Dave Eggers, Jennifer Egan and Jonathan Franzen.

Maybe Saunders is not a household name—but he deserves to be. His piercingly prescient post-modern sensibility should take America by storm. But in this digital age literary giants are in short supply. So be it.

“An amiable perfectionist,” as a reviewer noted, Saunders takes years to finish one story, polishing it to sublime precision for maximum impact. A narrative line from “Home” starts innocently enough and then veers into darkness, as the protagonist reminiscences about his younger sister: “I looked at her and for a minute she was eight and I was ten and we were hiding in the doghouse while Ma and Dad and Aunt Toni, on mushrooms, trashed the patio.”

The collection’s title piece, “Tenth of December,” brings together two very different characters one very cold afternoon: a suicidal middle-age cancer patient and a nerdy adolescent misfit living in a fantasy world.

The prose packs portents of Beckett, Steinbeck, even Hemingway in its staccato rhythm, and then comes a long, sinuous sentence with lyrical echoes worthy of Fitzgerald. Saunders seizes our time by the jugular.

His 10 stories herein cover class envy, subversive politics and suburban satire. He makes us see what we don’t want to see, and laugh when we didn’t think it was possible. Each piece is like an uncomfortable, but irresistible song that immediately grabs a hold so compelling that to break off would cause serious bodily harm.I didn’t think a short story could have that much power.

I was wrong.