George Saunders, Tenth of December
Hilarious, trenchant short stories from a master of human empathy
In Tenth of December, George Saunders uses satire to hilariously and trenchantly critique societal institutions and our roles in them (with a special emphasis on the class system, which many Americans still insist does not exist). But to focus on Saunders’s use of satire is to potentially overlook the deep faith in humanity that pervades these masterful short stories.
Put simply: It is clear that Saunders has never written a character that he does not, in some way, love. This goes for the self-involved teenager in “Victory Lap” as well as the man who comes to kidnap and rape her. Saunders’s empathy is apparent both toward the working-class mom who ties her unruly son to a tree in “Puppy” and to the middle-class mom who comes to buy a dog from the woman and is horrified to see the son straining against his tether. In one of the collection’s strongest stories, “Home,” a veteran of an unnamed Middle East war returns home to a penniless mom being evicted from her house and a sister and ex-wife shuttling quickly up the ladder to bourgeois comfort. In every “Thank you for your service” awkwardly uttered to him by numerous civilians who don’t know what else to say, one discerns Saunders’s respect for the plight of the platitude-giver and the plight of the destroyed veteran, for whom those words are more than meaningless.
Even the tone of Saunders’s reading voice, which is frequently witty but never mocking, makes clear that individuals, whether rich or poor, victims or perpetrators, are not to be blamed for the problems of Where We Are Now. We’re all caught up in the same oppressive systems, and we could do much worse than to take a cue from Saunders’s overwhelming generosity of spirit.