I tend to form obsessions with things. If I love a book or short story, I don’t just read it and then move on to the next. Instead, I read the book, give it about two weeks, read it again, recommend it to a friend, dissect it, draft a nice speech in its honor, maybe write two or three short stories inspired by it, and determine to become the proud owner of everything its author has ever written.
Tenth of December by George Saunders has become such a book.
Throughout this collection, Saunders plays with point of view, his readers’ emotions, and the human psyche. His characters are placed in somewhat absurd situations, and although some of the stories do contain elements of science fiction, such as in “Escape from Spiderhead,” the settings never vary greatly from our own world. Instead, through their absurdity, the stories provide social commentary on our society.
“Home” is arguably the strongest story in terms of its relation to contemporary issues. The narrator is a soldier having just returned from being court-martialed. Saunders emphasizes the absurdity of civilians thanking him “for his service” while doing little to help him reorient to life back home, and masterfully draws the veteran’s thoughts and experiences. Another story, “The Semplica Girl Diaries,” made me want to stand up on the train and start reading out loud, hoping that I could get my fellow commuters to join in and realize its beautiful horror. This is Saunders at his best. The story is written in the form of journal entries from a man who wishes to provide for his family but clearly does not have the finances to do so. He and his family marvel at the riches of other families, including the Semplica Girls displayed in their yards. What are Semplica Girls? I won’t spoil the story for you, but this is where the dreadfulness begins.
With each story, I found myself growing more intrigued by Saunders’s characters, fascinated by his strong social commentary, and assured of my undying love for this collection. It is the beginning of a newfound obsession.
Erin Flaaen works in marketing at Simon & Schuster.
A National Book Award finalist and one of the New York Times ten best books of 2013, Tenth of December is an honest and moving story collection from an undisputed master of the form. Writing brilliantly and profoundly about class, sex, love, loss, work, despair, and war, George Saunders cuts to the core of the contemporary experience. Unsettling, insightful, and hilarious, these stories take on the big questions and explore the fault lines of our own morality, delving into what it is that makes us good and what makes us human.