Nancy McKibben's Reviews > Tenth of December

Tenth of December by George Saunders
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it was amazing
bookshelves: favorites, short-stories, literary-fiction, reviewed
Recommended for: anyone who loves good literature

Tenth of December
By George Saunders

Tenth of December is a volume of short stories, and, in fact, Saunders writes chiefly short stories and novellas. I’m not a great fan of short stories; I’ll read them if a favorite writer has written some, but I don’t seek them out, largely because they often make me feel as if I didn’t quite get the point. I like to write long fiction, and that’s what I like to read.

But I kept hearing about George Saunders and how fabulous he was, so when I spotted his latest collection at the library, I brought it home. I read the first story, “Victory Lap.”

There’s a British expression “gobsmacked”, which means, literally, smacked in the mouth (gob) i.e. astonished, amazed. But gobsmacked sounds more emphatic, and that’s what I felt after reading that first Saunders story: gobsmacked.

I felt similarly amazed at the end of each story. I was captivated as a reader - I felt that I was in the heads of these characters, who were, no matter how odd or grotesque, portrayed as deeply human. I understood them; they were dear to me. And the settings were as diverse and imaginative as the characters.

I was also captivated as a writer; so much so that I re-read the stories. How does he do it? I kept wondering. How does he cram so much information into so few words? How does he manage to write in so many distinct voices? How does he offer hope in these dark stories without their seeming mawkish? How does he make dialog that is so funny but still natural? To wit:
“And the Flemings are awfully charming,” he said.

“And the good they do!” she said. “They flew a planeload of babies over here.”

“Russian babies,” he said. “With harelips.”

“Soon as the babies arrived, they were whisked into various operating rooms all around the country,” she said. “And who paid?”

“The Flemings,” he said.

“Didn’t they also set aside some money for college?” she said. “For the Russians?”

“Those kids went from being disabled in a collapsing nation to being set for life in the greatest country in the world,” he said. “And who did this? A corporation? The government?”

“One private couple,” she said.

“A truly visionary pair of folks,” he said.

There was a long, admiring pause.

“Although you’d never know it by how harshly he speaks to her,” she said.

“Well, she can be awfully harsh with him as well,” he said.

“Sometimes it’s just him being harsh with her and her being harsh right back,” she said.

“It’s like the chicken or the egg,” he said.

“Only with harshness,” she said.

“Still, you can’t help but love the Flemings,” he said.

“We should be so wonderful,” she said. “When was the last time we rescued a Russian baby?”

“Well, we do all right,” he said. “We can’t afford to fly a bunch of Russian babies over here, but I think, in our own limited way, we do just fine.”

“We can’t even fly over one Russian,” she said. “Even a Canadian baby with a harelip would be beyond our means.”

“We could probably drive up there and pick one up,” he said. “But then what? We can’t afford the surgery and can’t afford the college. So the baby’s just sitting here, in America instead of Canada, still with the lip issue.”
Who can resist that?

I’m still re-reading these stories, and you can bet I’ll be reading his other books as soon as I can lay my hands on them.

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Reading Progress

July 14, 2013 – Started Reading
July 15, 2013 – Finished Reading
July 16, 2013 – Shelved
July 16, 2013 – Shelved as: favorites
July 16, 2013 – Shelved as: short-stories
July 16, 2013 – Shelved as: literary-fiction
July 20, 2013 – Shelved as: reviewed

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