Tenth of December by George Saunders

Tenth of December is a kind of monstrous collection – monstrous in that it acts as a portent, a warning of what life has in store, of how soon life is over, of how easy it is to exploit others and take a misstep along the road of social cohesion. The way that Saunders happily throws genres into the blending pot and creates stories with surreal, dream-like edges that can send a reader into labyrinths of possible actions and paths is reminiscent of Borges. What he adds to all of this is humour. This is a writer you want to meet, someone who you feel has truly written themselves onto the page, someone prepared to tell the truth about what they see in this world of ours.

In ‘The Semplica Girl Diaries’ his narrator is writing about his life for future generations. Not long after winning money on a scratch card, he writes:

“Have been sleepingwalking through life, future reader. Can see that now. Scratch-Off win was like wake-up call. In rush to graduate college, win Pam, get job, make babies, move ahead in job, forget former feeling of special destiny I used to have when tiny, sitting in cedar-smelling bedroom closet, looking up at blowing trees through high windows, feeling I would someday do something great.” (location 1786)

Saunders writing is a like a “wake-up call”. It is innovative, anarchic even. He isn’t afraid to play with language or grammar if it better tells his story and this playful fearlessness is wonderfully refreshing.

I’ve read one other George Saunders book and was struck then in the same way. Here is a unique, embracing voice. A voice that would flounder in England without the kind of accolades Saunders work comes with from America. I can think of several English short-story writers who have a similar mix of the bureaucratic-bizarre – Guy Ware, Adam Marek, Paul Blaney – but we don’t seem to grasp and reward these writers. I wish we did.

I don’t want to summarise the stories. I don’t want to say, oh, in this one… I just want you to read this collection.

Next week I’ll be reading Europe in Autumn by Dave Hutchinson.

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