Book Review: Tenth of December by George Saunders | Short Story Collection

Usually whenever I remember my dreams they are simultaneously vague and vivid, always somewhat disturbing but with the unmistakable tinge of real life.

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Usually whenever I remember my dreams they are simultaneously vague and vivid, always somewhat disturbing but with the unmistakable tinge of real life. I wake up and spend a couple minutes in confusion before realizing that none of that stuff really happened and breathing a huge sigh of relief.

The majority of the stories in this collection seemed like they could easily have been a dream of mine. All of them are told in a hazy, sort of rushed style, taking place in a world and characters that parallel our own but often with a weird aura of unreality.

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About the Book

Title: Tenth of December

Author: George Saunders

Published: 2013

Series: (standalone)

Genre: short stories

My Rating: 4 stars

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The Premise

Synopsis (from Goodreads) (truncated):

Writing brilliantly and profoundly about class, sex, love, loss, work, despair, and war, Saunders cuts to the core of the contemporary experience. These stories take on the big questions and explore the fault lines of our own morality, delving into the questions of what makes us good and what makes us human.”

My Thoughts

Since Tenth of December is a short story collection, I’ll break up this review into a sort of set of mini-reviews, one for each story in the collection. Here goes nothing, I guess:

1) “Victory Lap” – 4/5 – this story caught me off guard with the sudden veer into, well, pretty dark territory. At first I had to take time to get used to the writing style and figure out what was going on. It follows two characters, a girl, and a boy who witnesses her abduction and has to make a split-second decision. I definitely related to him as I absolutely can’t handle crisis situations and one of my worst fears is witnessing something horrible about to happen and being the person responsible for *doing something* about it

2) “Sticks” – 3/5 – this was the shortest story but still I don’t believe I devoted enough time to it, but in brief, it was sad and vaguely cryptic

3) “Puppy” – 4/5 – this one was pretty disturbing too. The main theme seemed to be the contrast between a rich woman who is planning to buy a puppy for her kids and the “white trash” family from whom she is buying the puppy. The story spends a lot of time contrasting the mother from the puppy-owning family and the mother from the puppy-buying family and both of their messed-up perceptions of love

4) “Escape from Spiderhead” – 5/5 – as a sci-fi fan I really enjoyed this one though it was on the more out-there side of the collection. It takes place in a type of futuristic jail in which inmates are subjected to weird experiments with what seems to be IV-like drugs that make them feel different emotions. It also had one of my favorite quotes from the collection:

“At birth, they’d been charged by God with the responsibility of growing into total fuckups. Had they chosen this? Was it their fault, as they tumbled out of the womb? Had they aspired, covered in placental blood, to grow into harmers, dark forces, life enders? In that first holy instant of breath/awareness (tiny hands clutching and unclutching), had it been their fondest hope to render (via gun, knife, or brick) some innocent family bereft? No; and yet their crooked destinies had lain dormant within them, seeds awaiting water and light to bring forth the most violent, life-poisoning flowers, said water/light actually being the requisite combination of neurological tendency and environmental activation that would transform them (transform us!) into earth’s offal, murderers, and foul us with the ultimate, unwashable transgression”

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5) “Exhortation” – 5/5 – I also really enjoyed this story, which I interpreted as some sort of emulation of the “banality of evil” concept. It is written in the form of a sort of memo from a guy to who are presumably his employees about how they have to maintain a positive attitude during their work in “Room 6” order to have the best result and not succumb to inefficiency. It was pretty ominous and even though we never find out what Room 6 is I couldn’t help think of **that scene** from 1984 (if you know you know)

6) “Al Roosten” – 2/5 – unfortunately I wasn’t the hugest fan of this one (as evidenced by the fact I don’t remember it particularly well) The main character was unlikeable (as I’m sure he was meant to be) but I didn’t find him compelling or care about how his situation turned out

7) “The Semplica Girl Diaries” – 5/5 – this was a re-read as I’d read it earlier this year for a fiction writing class (and liked it so I decided to read the entire collection it was from). This was another mildly disturbing sci-fi story about a society in which there are things called “Semplica Girls”, a practice which is not explained until the middle-end of the story and so I will not explain here, but the commentary on wealth and exploitation is great

8) “Home” – 5/5 – this might be the saddest story in the collection; it follows a soldier who presumably has just returned from a war and is trying to cope with living his normal life again and pushing away a memory of something he did during the war

9) “My Chivalric Fiasco” – 2/5 – this one was kind of weird, still dark but a bit less dark than the others, even though it starts off with someone being raped… there’s also more weird emotion drugs

10) “Tenth of December” – 4/5 – unpopular opinion, as many seem to regard this as the best story… I kind of thought it was sappy. Maybe that makes me sound awful. I don’t know. It was good, though.

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You know, I should read more short stories.

Do you read short stories often? If so, what’s your favorite collection? Feel free to let me know in the comments!

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