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Tenth of December
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2014 Book Discussions > Tenth of December - Escape from Spiderhead (May 2014)

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Terry Pearce | 763 comments Discuss 'Escape from Spiderhead' here.

How did you feel about the switch to sci-fi at this point in the book?

Why did the protagonist do what he did at the end? How do you view the ending?


Whitney | 2040 comments Mod
I love this story. I thought the end was an example of what Saunders does so well, which is show that even the lowest among us is capable of a moment of grace (shades of Flannary O'Conner again).

I think this story obliquely raises the question of personal responsibility versus biological determination. Coincidentally, Radiolab just replayed their episode called "Blame", which looks at the issue of criminal and moral wrongdoing as choice versus predetermination based on chemicals in our brains. Exploring the question of whether there's a ghost in the machine that allows freedom of choice, or just the machine determining those choices.

I think it's interesting that rather than overcoming the pre-deterministic chemicals, Jeff used those chemicals to achieve different ends than those intended.

A couple things in the story that bugged me: the stereotype of the unfeeling scientists conducting unethical experiments for some presumed greater good, and the somewhat cutsey names of the drugs.


message 3: by Lily (new) - added it

Lily (joy1) | 2455 comments Whitney -- you lead me to ponder, does it take being sympathetic to the mind and writing of someone like Flannery O'Connor to appreciate this collection by George Saunders? (I am not an O'Connor fan -- I don't necessarily always understand her.)

This collection seems such a contrast to his famous commencement address, and yet one can recognize the compassion and decency that under-gird both.

This story felt too close to the botched death penalty in Oklahoma in the recent news. Saunders may not directly write about the "human interest" stories in our media, but he seems to tangle with their essence.


LindaJ^ (lindajs) | 2267 comments I've no problem with the use of the sci-fi genre in this story (or the others in which it is used). I found the story sad (like a lot of them). On re-reading for this discussion, I wondered if a point was being made about using human subjects, perhaps analogous to Tuskegee syphilis and other medical experiments conducted by the Public Health Service -- http://www.cnn.com/2010/HEALTH/10/01/....

I think Jeff made a choice at the end -- either kill or be killed. It was about all he had control over. I wondered if the remote had been purposely left where he could get it and, if so, whether that was part of the test or was a humane gesture on the part of Abnesti?

I'm not sure what to make of the ending. I think I understand what happened -- Jeff did not have to die but he chose to so he would never again be in a position where he could kill someone. But, what a decision to make.


message 5: by Lily (last edited May 13, 2014 02:24PM) (new) - added it

Lily (joy1) | 2455 comments Linda wrote: "..I wondered if a point was being made about using human subjects, perhaps analogous to Tuskegee syphilis ..."

Or the ones done in third world countries. What was the movie a few years ago? ("The Constant Gardener" (2005) wasn't it -- I didn't see it.)

This story originally appeared in 2010 in The New Yorker, according to Wiki.

A bit too much a Christ-figure story for my preferences, I think maybe. Saunders does keep alive in new story the reality, albeit via fictional figure, that a human, here a criminal, may choose to die for other humans or at least another.


LindaJ^ (lindajs) | 2267 comments Lily wrote: "A bit too much a Christ-figure story for my preferences, I think maybe. Saunders does keep alive in new story the reality, albeit via fictional figure, that a human, here a criminal, may choose to die for other humans or at least another."

That's an interesting take. I do not see Jeff as a Christ figure at all. I see him as choosing to die to protect himself more than to protect woman. Jeff killed someone in anger and he doesn't know why. He doesn't want to kill again.


Ahmed Amine I loved the story,I loved its originality, I loved how it dealt with many subjects such as criminal culpability, love, repentance, unethical scientific experiments...but what I disliked is jeff's bloody death("I used the corner of a desk.")it's not that I wanted him to suffer but I would've preferred it to be a clean death.


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