Tenth of December

George Saunders, Author
George Saunders. Random, $26 (272p) ISBN 978-0-8129-9380-6
Reviewed on: 11/05/2012
Release date: 01/08/2013
Open Ebook - 143 pages - 978-0-8129-9381-3
Hardcover - 301 pages - 978-1-4104-6039-4
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The title of Saunders's fourth collection doesn't reference any regularly observed holiday, but for the MacArthur-certified genius's fans, a new collection, his first in six years, is a cause to celebrate. Yet the 10 stories here—six of which ran in the New Yorker—might make readers won over by earlier, irony-laced absurdities like Pastoralia's "Sea Oak" or corporate nightmares like "CommComm" from In Persuasion Nation question whether they know Saunders as well as they think they do. Yes, "Puppy" is about a maniacally upbeat mother on a "Family Mission" to adopt a dog only to discover the dog owner's son chained to a tree in the backyard "via some sort of doohicky." Yes, "Escape from Spiderhead" is about evil experiments to make love and take love away using drugs with names like Darkenfloxx™. But readers expecting zany escapism will be humbled by the pathos on display in stories like "Home," where a soldier returns to his humble origins. "Victory Lap" features a disarming case of child kidnapping, and "The Semplica Girl Diaries" is a heartbreaking chronicle of two months of changeable fortune in the life of a lower-middle-class paterfamilias of modest expectation ("graduate college, win Pam, get job, make babies, forget feeling of special destiny"). Eventually, a suspicion creeps in that, behind Saunders's comic talents, he might be the most compassionate writer working today. Agent: Esther Newberg, ICM. (Jan. 8)
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