Sunday, January 20, 2013

TENTH OF DECEMBER by George Saunders

After hearing TENTH OF DECEMBER by George Saunders, I again wondered when exactly it was decided that an anagram of the word "hits" could not be spoken in polite society, while the word "feces" is acceptable. Here's a book which makes light of that fact in a series of short stories that some reviewers might be tempted to call "off the wall" and "screwball." The F word is used here a lot, too, but this is far from your typical humor book or text for some stand-up routine featuring low-brow bathroom jokes. Saunders is more like the female version of Jenny Lawson, but with even greater access to those regions of the brain which are mysterious and quixotic and imaginative. Wit is not the only thing in his arsenal, either. There are serious stories as well, with a profundity of insight seldom seen (or heard) in most current fiction. The author takes chances with both technique and subject matter, imbuing his characters with rich internal lives in the process. Not surprisingly, Saunders teaches creative writing, and has won a MacArthur Genius Grant. What makes these stories work is their surprise, too. . . especially considering how the typical Hollywood mindset of most writers have them creating predictable thrills featuring shallow villains. The author also reads his own stories here, and adds colors and flavors to his performance (at least in the opening stories) that seem strikingly honest while being quirky. He could, in fact, become a professional narrator himself, if he so desired. For those who believe that "different" is not a derogatory word (and I am one of them), this collection is well worth the price of admission.

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