George Saunders is back with yet another collection of satirical stories that bite even while they tickle. “The Tenth of December: Stories” is another stellar Saunders masterpiece, with 10 stories whose premises range from the bizarre to the mundane, yet never fail to bring us back to the sometimes frightening landscape of our own internal thoughts.
Bursting with Saunders’s ability to make the everyday seem strange and the strange seem wholly human, this collection is a remarkable achievement. He takes on social class, human emotion and 21st century morality with his trademark sense of humor, and the result is a collection of short stories that leaves us laughing even while we cringe.
The stories are diverse in many aspects. Some take the form of journals or office memos and the settings range from an eerie sci-fi prison to an awkward suburban fundraiser. Everywhere, though, are characters who are fallible and insecure, and it ultimately may be a murderer who becomes the greatest hero.
Saunders is an expert at getting inside his characters’ heads, and his stories are more psychological than they are political or moral. The stories’ settings, plots and resolutions are secondary to their movement through the characters’ internal monologues, and readers will find the characters’ rationalizations at once familiar and absorbing.
As his characters wrestle with their morals, Saunders takes a well-aimed shot at the human tendency to rationalize and fictionalize one’s problems. His characters are prone to imagining conversations with dead parents and thinking themselves better than they are, but what keeps the collection from feeling preachy or overdone is the overwhelming sensation that this author really understands how people think.
Saunders’s over-the-top style can feel a little heavy, but there’s no doubt that he’s a master, and “The Tenth of December” is a remarkably astute and enjoyable addition to Saunders’s works. It would be possible to finish this book quickly — the prose is fun and absorbing enough to breeze through — but it’s better savored slowly as a brilliant, funny, innovative look inside the thoughts that drive us all.