Tenth of December is Saunders’s fourth collection of short stories, and it is very very good.
You may have heard about it. Some have (already) said that it’s the best book of 2013. That’s a lot of faith, or love, or something.
And the book is, really, very good. Saunders’s Tenth of December appropriately holds ten short stories, on a variety of different subjects, using a range of different voices and styles. Some of my favorite stories flirt with science fiction, other stories mix in humor and conversational style, and all underline the fundamental weirdness of the modern human experience—the fundamental oddity of humans. Saunders brings a broad collection of social anxieties and assumptions under the microscope, and tugs on different strings in the complicated knot work, highlighting the strange anatomy of each snare. With every story, Saunders proves himself a deft craftsman, shaping and tailoring each note of each story to perfect balance.
Perhaps they were a little too perfect for my taste—no raw garage band writing here, nothing that the page or the editor or very tasteful, judicious self-editing could not contain. Nothing quite touched me. One story came close.
Generally, I think I prefer a bit of the mess and the almost desperate need to explain, to propel characters and events together with barely restrained force.
Saunders is very deft, very balanced, very restrained.
And again, Saunders can write. He can really write. I genuinely enjoyed almost all of the stories (although while I understood and even empathized with “Al Roosten,” I would not read it again). My favorite stories in Tenth are “Victory Lap,” “Escape from Spiderhead,” “Exhortation,” “The Semplica Girl Diaries,” and “Home.” There, I just said that I really like half of them. And I do. They are excellently crafted. They are engaging to read. I like them and they are good.
But. None of them mattered enough to me—moved me, I guess, as cheesy and simplistic as that may sound—to make me do much more than admire excellent craftsmanship, great stylistic control, and a few good ideas.
I would not call it the best book of 2013 (I hold out hope for better), but it is excellent writing, and they are genuinely very good stories. It’s certainly worth reading, even if it’s not my absolute favorite book of all time.