I’m digging reading George Saunders’s stuff, and Tenth of December is no exception. Some thoughts:
- Although these stories will not be classified as dystopias, they take place in a USA that is clearly degraded from where we were (at some point, mythically perhaps). This group of stories is perhaps not quite as dramatically set fifteen minutes in the future, but it still takes place in a country that has seen many of its current trends – especially the separation of the one percenters, and the disturbing attempts by those of us who aren’t to kiss the one percenters’ collective asses – speed up.
- The title story is actually sort of touching, despite its background. A middle-aged person dying from cancer (slowly, with very little dignity, as befits Trump’s USA), decides to commit suicide and actually gets redemption from saving a young boy from freezing to death. Saunders allows him to die in the middle of a warm living room, surrounded by the boy’s single mom who is thanking him and trying to bring him back.
- “Home,” a story about a vet who returns home to lots of people thanking him for his service and to his crazy family’s attempts to stay in their home, felt about as real to me as any of the other returning vet stories. The vet tells us at the end that we need to take responsibility for our actions that caused him to pursue this path, and that complicated algorithm feels very much like a way to think responsibility, consequences, and war.
- None of these stories felt like they had the same wild energy as CivilWarLand in Bad Decline, his first collection of short stories, but felt more along the lines of what I expect from a narrative. They definitely were not Hemingwayesque, as he feared his prose was when he first started writing, but they met narrative expectations more clearly. I admired the chaos and vision of the first set a lot, so there are pluses and minuses to this change.
- I admire the fact that he writes short stories. Too often I think fiction writers feel they have to write novels. These short stories feel perfect, and clearly identify the way in which (as a friend who is a screenwriter told me) good writing wrings all of the emotion out of an image or scene.