I think about a world to come where the books were found by the golden ones, written in pain, written in awe by a puzzled man who questioned, "What are we here for?" All the strangers came today and it looks as though they're here to stay.

-David Bowie "Oh! You Pretty Things"

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

George Saunders - Tenth of December: Stories

George Saunders is what my professors in the writing department would call a "rockstar writer." While rockstar musicians are likely to wear tight pants and sing falsetto, Saunders achieved rockstar status by writing genre-bending stories that break many, if not all, of the rules that students are taught regarding English grammar and composition. Reading Tenth of December: Stories, I realized that Saunders is the future that I was trained by Ander Monson at the GVSU writing department to be a part of. Saunders pushes the envelope in terms of style, content and format.

If you reflect on literary history, stream of consciousness is nothing new. It became popular and edgy in the first half of the twentieth century. Now that it is the first half of the twenty-first century, however, a writer needs to innovate in order to keep this style of writing fresh. Many have simply retired back into simpler, more staight-forward narratives, but Saunders understands that stream of consciousness evolves just as human language and interaction evolves. As such, stories like "Victory Lap" and "Tenth of December" go into the minds of children who are at once in both a world of fantasy and in the world of texts, blogs, and short attention span. Altered states of consciousness, be they drug- or war-induced, make the stream equally convoluted in stories like "Escape from Spiderhead," "Home," and "My Chivalric Fiasco." Asides are represented by parenthesies, questionable or excited statements are represented with question or exclamation marks in parentheses, and such verbal irregularities such as people who make their statements sound like questions are simply represented by a question mark at the end of a statement. The result of these methods is that each character sounds like somebody you might already know.

Mixing literary fiction, speculative/science fiction, lists, memos, and journal writing, Saunders proves in Tenth of December that he has become a sort of superman of literature. Of particular interest was his ability to tell a creepy story in the form of a message from an employer to employees with the intent of motivating the employees to do their job with more joy in the story "Exhortation." This same story is a fantastic example of the moral content of Saunders' stories. We don't know exactly what these employees are doing in Room 6, but it certainly doesn't sound very humane.

Many are comparing the moral component of Saunders' stories to that of the great Mark Twain. Just as Twain writes about a young boy who goes against conventional wisdom in liberating a slave in Huckleberry Finn, Saunders makes us value every-day suburban life over the irksome issue of human trafficking in "The Semplica Girl Diaries." In what feels like a nod to A Clockwork Orange, Saunders deals with drug trials and behavioral conditioning in "Escape from Spiderhead." No modern sin is overlooked, not child abuse ("Puppy"), nor experimentation on humans ("Escape From Spiderhead"), nor possible torture ("Exhortation"), nor slavery ("Semplica Girl Diaries"), nor even PTSD.

Tenth of December: Stories is likely to become a classic. The benefit of reading it now rather than when it is featured in literature courses in the future is that you can be one of the people who made it a classic instead of merely being one of those people who responded to the taste of more risky readers. This work by Saunders will be on your bookshelf eventually. Why not pick up a first edition?

I've syndicated this review at Examiner. You can read it here. If you click on it a few times, spend some time there, or navigate to a new page, I might get some money. But I'm only asking that of you if you liked reading the article here and want to show your appreciation.

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