Literary Quote of the Month

“For poems are not, as people think, simply emotions (one has emotions early enough)—they are experiences,” … Rilke, The Notebooks of Malte Laurids Brigge.

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

The Tenth of December by George Saunders… A Review

Satire is irony, it's sarcasm, it's George Saunders, who wrote Tenth of December. This book of short stories, Tenth of December, is filled with the ironies of everyday life, sometimes existing in a futuristic world, and a wry sense of humor. Not everything is humorous in Tenth of December, but George Saunders has an incredible gift of language that makes for some great reading even in the wake of some disturbing narrative.

The short story itself needs to be a taunt, never veering without purpose, kind of writing. A good short story needs to takes us from A to Z in a brief period of time without wasting words, and George Saunders is a master of that. These stories in his newest collection, pack an emotional punch, almost slapping, with their sometimes gritty, urban settings and stripped down humanity. But you can see the truth in what he writes and appreciate the honesty in the way he writes it.

In Tenth of December we meet Kyle, who's parents have created a kind of pacifist and who now must make a choice to abandon what they drilled into him to save the life of the little girl next door. Two Mothers who are similar, yet not; A shop owner who fantasizes about making that one decision that will make his life perfect; And a criminal who volunteers for pharmaceutical testing only to have it create a battle with his moral character, that "they" created in him. And even a maintenance kid in a Medieval Times job who aspires to move up the ladder to make life better for his family, but witnesses something that changes those plans. In all there are ten stories, all with their own special quality.

My Thoughts… Tenth of December is a great collection of stories. At first I was struggling with reading these stories. I wasn't "getting it" or why the author was lauded for being the reincarnation of Mark Twain. I watched George Saunders give a talk at Google about his writing. I liked him; I liked the passage he was reading from this book. Then I realized that my normal reading definitely wasn't satire, and I had to take a breather from the literary fiction I was reading to give Tenth of December a chance. And it worked. In each of these stories, George Saunders gets to the heart of his characters, no matter how flawed they are, to show us what makes us human. I laughed, I felt pain, I felt sadness.

Favorite stories? The Semplica Girl Diaries, My Chivalric Fiasco, and Tenth of December.

If short stories are something you've wanted to try and you enjoy good satire, Tenth of December by George Saunders is a great choice. I really enjoyed the time I spent in George's world. ..

About the Author…

"I was born in Amarillo, Texas, grew up in Chicago, and (barely) graduated from the Colorado School of Mines with a degree in exploration geophysics.  There was an oil-boom on, which meant that even someone like me could get work in the oil-fields.  So after college I went to work in Sumatra, as a field geophysicist.  We worked four weeks on and two weeks off, in a jungle camp that was a forty-minute helicopter ride to the nearest town – so this is when my reading life really started.  The game became filling up an entire suitcase with books sufficient to get me through the next two weeks of camp life.  About a year and a half at this job, I got sick after going swimming in a river that was polluted with monkey shit (I remember looking up at about 200 of them, sitting on our oil pipeline crapping away, and thinking: “I wonder if swimming here is okay?”) and came home to try and be Kerouac II.  I worked as a doorman, a roofer, a convenience store clerk, and a slaughterhouse worker (a “knuckle-puller,” to be exact), and all of this contributed to my understanding of capitalism as a benign-looking thing that, as Terry Eagleton says, “plunders the sensuality of the body.

I’d always been interested in reading, ever since a nun I was secretly in love with turned me on to “Johnny Tremaine” in third grade.  But I’d never met a writer and so it took me awhile to realize that a person could actually write for a living."

*P.S. Want to read one of his stories? You can get a sampling of his writing at openculture.com, where you can read 10 of his stories! Including The Semplica Girl Diaries and Tenth of December.

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