WINNER OF THE 2014 FOLIO PRIZE AND SHORTLISTED FOR THE NATIONAL BOOK AWARD 2013
George Saunders's most wryly hilarious and disturbing collection yet, Tenth of December illuminates human experience and explores figures lost in a labyrinth of troubling preoccupations. A family member recollects a backyard pole dressed for all occasions; Jeff faces horrifying ultimatums and the prospect of DarkenfloxxTM in some unusual drug trials; and Al Roosten hides his own internal monologue behind a winning smile that he hopes will make him popular. With dark visions of the future riffing against ghosts of the past and the ever-settling present, this collection sings with astonishing charm and intensity.
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.