'Tenth of December'

'Tenth of December'
By George Saunders
Random House

Few writers can bend America over and take its temperature with the same tender professionalism as George Saunders. Fewer still are able to get such accurate readings. With 'Tenth of December,' the MFA program favorite's fourth and most approachable short story collection, Saunders was able to bring his wry satire to a broader audience without rupturing his blistering voice or compromising the urgency of his characters. Take, for instance, "Victory Lap", in which the world of a naïve suburban girl and her regimented, track-running neighbor is shaken by a man who attempts to kidnap her. Rather than telling the story from a single perspective, Saunders inhabits the psyches of all three individuals. It's a brutal story that begins – as things tend to do in Saunder's world – innocently enough. Saunders twists the thermometer, investing us in three characters whose well-being is mutually exclusive.

In the wonderful title story, Saunders introduces us to a young outcast with a wild imagination wandering the woods in search of his chance to be a hero. To say too much would be to ruin the magic, but the tale is told in a snappy, scholarly prose that makes the boy seem far beyond his years – a trick that seems playful at first, but makes the boy's final attempt at heroism all the more affecting. In "The Semplica Girl's Diary," perhaps the best in the collection, a middle-class man scrawls a succession of journal entries about his regret for not being able to provide the life his status-conscious daughter craves. Even after he wins the lottery, the man fears he'll never have enough, and the story serves as a striking condemnation of capitalism and all its puff-chested dreams. It's heartrending, funny, and exquisitely told. In other words, it's Saunders at his finest. This collection is, too.