Tenth of December by George Saunders

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Based on the experience of my life, which I have not exactly hit out of the park, I tend to agree with that thing about, If it’s not broke, don’t fix it. And would go even further to: Even if it is broke, leave it alone, you’ll probably make it worse.

What it’s about: A collection of stories which includes “Home,” a wryly whimsical account of a soldier’s return from war; “Victory lap,” a tale about an inventive abduction attempt; and the title story, in which a suicidal cancer patient saves the life of a young misfit.

Why I liked it: Reading a story by George Saunders is like getting a punch in the gut from a velvet-wrapped fist. Saunders writes with incision and dark humor about human nature, and he has a gift for depicting the best and worst of our natures all at the same time. While I enjoyed reading each of these stories, I had to dole them out slowly and at intervals, so as not to succumb to a fatal overdose. A story like “Escape from Spiderhead,” for instance, might have the effect of making me want to curl up in the fetal position for a couple of days. I am glad Saunders chose to end this collection with the title story, which was the most hopeful and least dark of the bunch. Saunders’ last word on the human species was not one of despair, but rather of optimism.

Who might like it: Saunders is a gifted short story writer, and I would recommend this collection to anyone who is a student of the craft of storytelling, or of human nature itself.

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