Published in their day by several media like The New Yorker or Harper’s, the ten stories that make up Tenth of December confirm George Saunders’ (Texas, 1958) good condition. The author plays with genres, points of view and syntax to create astonishing voices; dubious minds and damaged consciences we get to know in depth, from within. Although technically prolific, what we actually enjoy is the moral aspect. It an exercise in style, of course – the man is a professor of creative writing at the University of Syracuse –, but that style is only the means with which he achieves a bigger goal: the emotion; that persistent need to make us feel the pain, the inability or the existential confusion of his characters. The devastating power of loss (‘Sticks’ – the oldest story, from 1995), the issue of status and social class (‘Al Roosten’ among others) or broken homes (‘Home’) are some of the subjects Saunders immerses us in, using all kinds of somersaults which are not kicks in front of the bleachers, but at first can seem a little intricate.
There is no better future for this suburban and discouraging reality. Just like in Huxley, Saunders does not trust technological progress. One example of this is ‘Escape from Spiderhead’, where he borrows from science fiction to tell the story of some scientists who try to monitor love through the use of drugs. In ‘The Semplica Girl Diaries’, which is a sort of Black Mirror episode in epistolary format, he adds to that dystopian future the suffering of a father who tends to overprotect his daughters due to a class complex, and gives them some women as a present– we can guess that they are immigrants – who function merely as garden decorations. And if Saunders feels like it, he can also get southern gothic and, just as in ‘Victory Lap’, tell us the story of a boy who observes as his beautiful neighbour is about to get raped by a rapist as disturbed as he is incompetent. And there is more. ‘Exhortation’ for example, recreates the cynicism and subtle threats a working class is exposed to because of a business owner who asks his workers for smiles and positive attitudes.
In all, despite being destined to lose, Saunders’ characters try to do what is good and those good aspirations show us a glimmer of humanity that works as a scream for help in the suffocating world we are bound to live in. Compared to Vonnegut for a reason, Saunders displays a dark, eccentric and fatalistic humour that tries to warn us about the ill-fated hours that await us.