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Puzzled by the Hype   Leave a comment

TenthDecember

Satirical, dark, contemporary and poignant are apt descriptions of the 10 short stories by George Saunders, in a collection entitled Tenth of December. Consistent and pleasing, on the other hand, don’t make my list.

Writing in multiple voices, Saunders’s edge dulls by the end of the collection: too much anguish, disappointment and loss.  However, “Victory Lap” and “Puppy” tug at the soul. The narrators are very aware of what is missing in their lives. Saunders nails the internal struggles of the main characters. “Victory Lap” features two teens whose inner voices are imaginative, rebellious and forthright – unlike their true personalities. Kyle is a teenage boy grappling with whether or not to come to the aid of his next door neighbor as she’s being abducted. Before the inner struggle ensues, he cops an attitude toward his parents, extreme control freaks. This explains Kyle’s reluctance: his parents are likely to be disappointed at what others will perceive as heroism. Although it may not seem like a likely place for humor to reside, this is a laugh-out loud story. Saunders creates tension and humor effortlessly.

“Puppy” carries that same unlikely combination, but this time with a mother as narrator trying to appease her overindulged children. Spoiled kids, grown kids who make poor choices, parents who make bad decisions and adults knowing they need to do better with their lives are among the characters Saunders creates. They’re not people I want to know. Perhaps therein lies the problem: they are, in fact, all around us.

Tenth of December
Not-quite Four Bookmarks
Random House, 2013
251 pages

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