4 of 16
Tenth of December
272 pages; Random House
Acclaimed fiction writer George Saunders has long been drawn to the farcical elements of contemporary life, playing for laughs. Tenth of December, his first story collection in more than six years, showcases his singular voice, a spirited Americanese that owes as much to marketing as to Melville, yet taps a deeper anguish. Gone are the broken-down amusement parks and plucky strivers from his earlier work. Here his characters cling to sanity beneath a crushing anomie—pawns in the iron grips of evil scientists, corporations, religious sects, and their own dire impulses. Returning vets, home foreclosures, racial tension—the stories suggest a country on the edge. As one character observes: "Everything's backwards and inverted." And yet there is a gleam of redemption: Friendships are forged, families are healed. In the title story, two strangers, a middle-aged man with cancer and a bullied boy, save each other from tragedy in a snow-draped forest. Other stories roam freely over the fading American Dream. Satirical, searching, sure-footed, the masterful Saunders peers into the wintry twilight ahead, holding love like a fragile lamp to guide us.
— Hamilton Cain