I recently finished a collection of short stories by George Saunders called Tenth of December. I’ve never read Saunders before and didn’t intend to, but I saw the title in a favorite new and used bookstore and had to pick it up. I’ve always loved the bookstore. It used to be called Earth ‘N Book in La Grande, Oregon. Years ago, it changed hands, and I felt that it wasn’t quite what it used to be. However, I popped my head in on a recent visit to Oregon, and it drew me in—just like a good new and used bookstore (is there any other kind?) always does.
I scanned the new releases, and that’s when the title caught my attention: Tenth of December. You see, that’s a significant date for me. That’s the date that My Love was born. (Though for years I had it in my head that his birthday was on the seventh.) I picked it up and read some praise on the back cover. There was a conversation at the end with David Sedaris—a favorite! I decided to get it as a gift for Z, who would be visiting me in Oregon on his way through. (He is currently on a bike trek from Utah through the Northwest.) So, I bought the book, along with another great book called This is Not My Hat for my nephew. (That book encouraged a good four-year old-appropriate conversation on the ethics of stealing. Z pointed out that it also taught dramatic irony.)
Tenth of December starts with a short story called “Victory Lap,” which is absolutely stunning. It is hilarious and traumatic—something Saunders does very well. He also has a distinct and innovative voice, but doesn’t seem like he’s trying too hard—which means he was probably trying very, very hard. I know that seems so very nonspecific, so I’ll try to elaborate. Saunders does this thing where he integrates these informal aspects of text-speak and typing. So, for example, the “ha ha has” we get when we’re chatting or texting are integrated into his work in a profound and poetic, but (of course) understated way. There are a few good authors who are absolutely genius with their ability to make the colloquial profound (Raymond Carver is among them), and Saunders does that too. But, what’s most interesting, I think, is the way he integrates a really modern colloquial that is clearly influenced by the way changing and omnipresent technology evolves our language.
“Victory Lap” was probably my favorite piece. I also really appreciated “Puppy.” In my opinion, a few pieces were too dark and/or difficult for their payoff, but I am particularly sensitive to such things. As you, dear readers, may recall, I am making an effort to read mostly female authors for the time being. It’s difficult to describe why exactly, but suffice it to say that for my current creative endeavors, I want to have the voices of women in my head.
Despite that current constraint, I picked up and read Tenth of December as quickly as I could. When Z arrived in Oregon, I kept reading it for several days, trying to finish in case he wanted to take it with him on his bike trek. Though it was an emotional rollercoaster, I’m glad I read it. I’m also glad I’ve given it as a gift. I won’t mind that it is in someone else’s care for awhile.