Tenth of December

George Saunders

I always feel I should like George Saunders more than I do; when The New York Times emphatically declared this “the best book you’ll read this year,” I thought perhaps these would be the stories that would teach me to love him. The flaw in this thinking being that I read several of them when they ran in The New Yorker. I plodded through “Escape from Spiderhead” both times I read it.

What I find tough about Saunders is the hopelessness of his dystopian satire. I see the humor, I appreciate the spareness of his prose, but emotionally his stories just bum me out. There are too many characters trying so pointlessly to be better people — ”pointlessly” because in their worlds, they have no chance of being happy. The artfulness of any deep truths buried in disheartening experiences gets harder and harder to appreciate when it’s happening over and over again. I considered not finishing this collection, with the growing dread at the beginning of each story. I’m pretty sure when the titular tale ran in TNY, I didn’t finish it then, but I did this time, even though it’s the last one in this book and I was so close to giving up. Yet this was the story that I liked, and (spoiler) it’s the one where two people’s seemingly foolish actions somehow save each other in the end. Its placement eked out a positive feeling for the collection, but I officially consider George Saunders’ fiction to be Not My Thing.