Friday, May 24, 2013

Book Review: Tenth of December

Authors like George Saunders are making me rethink my longtime aversion to short stories. In Tenth of December, Saunders crafts several stories that are excellent in two ways: the voices of the characters and the subtle role of science/technology in the stories. The first I expected but the second surprised me. Fully half of these stories say something deep (but not necessarily obvious) about science or technology, and some even have what I would call science fiction elements, if calling them that didn't painfully highlight how much the the typical "science fiction" style of writing pales in comparison to Saunders's writing. I'm not sure I've ever encountered a writer who was able to convincingly voice a teenage girl (in "Victory Lap," the first story) and a middle-lower-class working father (in "The Semplica Girl Diaries," almost certainly my personal favorite) and a terminal cancer patient (in the title story). Saunders clearly understands what it's like to be poor in a way that many other writers simply do not (or at least do not communicate). His characters are painfully tangible and tragicomic, sometimes causing cringe like a good episode of The Office, sometimes evoking heroism in unexpected ways. Only one story, "Home", comes off to me as less than perfectly shaped. Themes of salvation and true humanity and family recur again and again.  This is just what good writing can do. Even better, I got to hear the author himself read it on the audiobook from the library. That is just what a good audiobook can do.

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