Ever since I first read “The Falls,” the dark and powerful final short story in George Saunders’ 2000 collection, Pastoralia, I’ve devoured every piece of writing he’s done while impatiently anticipating his next collection. After six years, his latest, Tenth of December, is finally here, and it’s even more than I expected.
Tenth of December is Saunders’ deepest collection to date; each story captures different real life struggles and worries, like responsibility, the challenge of living a moral life, and death. The opening story, “Victory Lap,” sets the tone. A young boy watches as his schoolmate (and crush) is dragged from her house by a threatening stranger, and he must instantly decide whether to run out after her or remain a bystander in his house, as his parents have taught him.
Despite this shift towards greater realism, there are touches of Saunders’ signature style throughout the collection. For example, the drugs in “Escape from Spiderhead,” a sci-fi-esque tale of a dystopian reality where mood-altering concoctions are tested on prisoners, have clever names (Darkenfloxx, Verbaluce) that will feel familiar to fans. Also, some of the stories’ most touching moments are tempered with his special humor.
In my opinion, the piece that really shows Saunders’ literary evolution is “Tenth of December,” the collection’s title story. It reminds me of “The Falls” in many ways; in both stories, a defeated middle-aged man is faced with the choice of rescuing children in distress. But while there was no hope for the main character in “The Falls” (he plunges into racing waters and certain death), the protagonist in “Tenth of December,” is offered a second chance at life.
The collection is now available, and I highly recommend it. The stories will stick with you long after you’ve finished them.