There are only a handful of writers I can think of who can handle a character with such maturity that, even within a short story, I can get a full picture. One of these noble few is George Saunders. He’s had stories published in The New Yorker, GQ, and other publishers ad aemulationum; he’s also a MacArthur fellow. His story collection Tenth of December, named after one of the shorts contained within, is a spectacle of writing that showcases exactly why his name deserves to be in the same ball park as the greats. It follows the rule “show don’t tell” about his own maturity and capability delve deep into his characters.
The popularity of this collection, 1K plus amazon reviews, National Book Awards finalist, etc., etc., is a giant neon sign giving me obvious direction. As a writer (aspiring writer? Either or both, I guess), I find that Saunders is an paragon of the short story writer. Does this mean that all short story writers should take pages, if not whole stories, from Saunders’s book and pursue his avant-garde approach to form? Should we try to reanimate dead forms such as the use of “re” to mean “about”, (I.e. That e-mail re proper submission guidelines)? Of course not. Saunders, I imagine, smelted his own style through a crucible of trial and error and/or reading and emulation. We writers will have to use Saunders as a goal, but we also must realize that between two goals there are an infinite amount of points to land. Saunders reminds the studious writer to continue to push their form to discover for themselves what point along this journey they fall.
Within this collection of 10 stories is an infusion of topics such as class in America and drugs. Some of the stories deal with them particularly, but often they drift elsewhere while retaining the essence of these two. These stories are often neither an outright condemnation of the things it highlights, nor does it exalt them, instead he paints them exactly as they are, or as he imagines them to be, without judgement.
This list isn’t in a particular order, but it does capture the stories that, I think, cut sharper than the rest:
- Escape from Spiderhead
- The Simplica Girl Diaries
- Tenth of December
This collection radiates a raw understanding that very few have. It should be taken as a standard among those who strive to write short stories. For these facts alone, I wholly recommend reading Tenth of December.