BookBrowse Reviews Tenth of December by George Saunders

Summary |  Excerpt |  Reviews |  Beyond the book |  Readalikes |  Genres & Themes |  Author Bio

Tenth of December

Stories

by George Saunders

Tenth of December by George Saunders X
Tenth of December by George Saunders
  • Critics' Opinion:

    Readers' Opinion:

     Not Yet Rated
  • First Published:
    Jan 2013, 272 pages
    Paperback:
    Jan 2014, 288 pages

  • Rate this book


Book Reviewed by:
Norah Piehl

Buy This Book

About this Book

Reviews

BookBrowse:


Tenth of December holds up a brutally detailed mirror to the human condition, forcing us to examine ourselves; yellow teeth, wrinkles, warts, and all.

Some may wonder what George Saunders, the brilliant and often bitingly satirical author whose work largely came of age during the George W. Bush administration, would find to focus on in this nominally less politically fraught time. It turns out that to a writer for whom humanity's moral imperatives - indeed the very essence of humanity itself - is at the center of his attention, there's still more than enough material to populate a devastatingly insightful collection like Tenth of December. The ten stories collected here, most of which were originally published in The New Yorker (as well as Story, Prospect, and Harper's magazines), hold up a brutally detailed mirror to the human condition, forcing us to examine ourselves – yellow teeth, wrinkles, warts, and all.

People do terrible things to one another in Saunders's stories. But, then again, this is true in real life, after all. In "Puppy," two women – both utterly convinced that they are in the right – offer starkly different models of motherhood. In "My Chivalric Fiasco," an employee at a medieval-themed park finds himself without a reliable moral compass – at least in our contemporary society – after he witnesses a colleague's rape.

And in "Escape from Spiderhead," a young man named Jeff finds himself at the center of a futuristic mind control experiment, as changing doses of pharmaceuticals rapidly and drastically alter his ability to articulate his feelings, perpetuate violence, and even feel love. Jeff's story raises questions about the true nature of the human condition, about whether people bear any endemic "goodness" or whether our desires and impulses are so malleable that they can be adjusted at the push of a button. Saunders has said that this story, one of the longest in the collection, was originally intended as the germ of a longer piece, possibly a novel. But it's clear from the amount of emotional intensity and efficiency of prose that Saunders packs into this finished shorter work that the author is truly a short-story writer at heart, a fact that readers should, and likely will, embrace.

All this may make it seem as if Saunders's collection offers only a bleak and relentlessly downbeat vision of the world. It's true that his satirical worldview appears to highlight only the worst of human actions and intentions. In the first and last stories in the collection, however, Saunders introduces moments of positive action and grace. "Victory Lap" - which also includes some of his most playful language, as he wittily captures the thought processes of a young teenage boy and girl - shows the positive outcomes of people overcoming fear in the face of evil. Likewise, the title story, which closes the collection, offers one model for how people can snap out of relentless introspection and the despair that can accompany it – through compassion and caring for others.

While Tenth of December can be read as moral commentary or as social satire, it can also be enjoyed more viscerally, as readers allow themselves to revel in the language in which Saunders himself clearly delights. The stories are full of inventive (and invented) words, of playful manipulations of vocabulary, tone, and syntax. At times it's exuberantly (and hilariously) vulgar. And at times his sentences – "A cardinal zinged across the day" – are just so utterly beautiful and alive that one can't help but stop and sigh a little. "Why were we made just so," asks one character in the final story, "to find so many things that happened every day pretty?" If characters can still ask questions such as these, it's clear that while hope is not easy to find in Saunders's world, it is not, in fact, all lost.

Reviewed by Norah Piehl

This review was originally published in January 2013, and has been updated for the January 2014 paperback release. Click here to go to this issue.

This review is available to non-members for a limited time. For full access, become a member today.
Membership Advantages
  • Reviews
  • "Beyond the Book" backstories
  • Free books to read and review (US only)
  • Find books by time period, setting & theme
  • Read-alike suggestions by book and author
  • Book club discussions
  • and much more!
  • Just $10 for 3 months or $35 for a year
  • More about membership!

Editor's Choice

  • Book Jacket: The Overstory
    The Overstory
    by Richard Powers
    Many glowing adjectives can be used to describe a novel by Richard Powers: brilliant, moving, ...
  • Book Jacket: American Histories
    American Histories
    by John E. Wideman
    In American Histories, a collection of 21 short stories, John Edgar Wideman draws America's present ...
  • Book Jacket: I Found My Tribe
    I Found My Tribe
    by Ruth Fitzmaurice
    Ruth O'Neill was only 28 when she married film director Simon Fitzmaurice in 2004. Changing her...
  • Book Jacket: The Art of the Wasted Day
    The Art of the Wasted Day
    by Patricia Hampl
    Patricia Hampl wants you to know that daydreaming is not a waste of a day. Nor is spending time ...

Book Discussion
Book Jacket
Music of the Ghosts by Vaddey Ratner

A love story for things lost and restored, a lyrical hymn to the power of forgiveness.

About the book
Join the discussion!

Readers Recommend

  • Book Jacket

    The Girl Who Smiled Beads
    by Clemantine Wamariya & Elizabeth Weil

    A riveting story of survival, and the power of stories to save us.
    Reader Reviews

Win this book!
Win The Leavers

The Leavers by Lisa Ko

One of the most anticipated books of 2017--now in paperback!

Enter

Word Play

Solve this clue:

T E H N Clothes

and be entered to win..

Books that     
entertain,
     engage

 & enlighten

Visitors can view some of BookBrowse for free. Full access is for members only.

Join Today!

Your guide toexceptional          books

BookBrowse seeks out and recommends books that we believe to be best in class. Books that will whisk you to faraway places and times, that will expand your mind and challenge you -- the kinds of books you just can't wait to tell your friends about.