The Reading List

Tenth of December

George Saunders has put the "er..." in America with his book of bizarre short stories.

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The short story has never been as venerated here as in the US. Perhaps it’s part of America’s urge to differentiate its literature from the English tradition. Perhaps it’s a symptom of its countrymen’s inferior attention spans. However they’ve done it, they’ve made a habit of doing it very, very well. There’s John Cheever and Raymond Carver of course, or more recently Richard Ford and Canada’s Alice Munro.

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Now a new collection by author and regular The New Yorker contributor George Saunders reminds us just how alive the form still is. Tenth of December fizzes with energy and invention as Saunders, whose previous books of short stories include Pastoralia and In Persuasion Nation, revels in the eccentricities of language like a mechanical pig in fake poop — to understand that reference see “My Chivalric Fiasco” in which a janitor at a mock-Arthurian theme park is given a pill that makes him talk like a Ye Olde Knight. Saunders’ characters aren’t the types to muse on cloudy skies over a cooling cup of tea; these are feisty teens, passive-aggressive bosses, white trash mums – sorry, moms – whose absurd, frightening, funny experiences are only fractionally more outlandish than the realities of their homeland.

Tenth of December by George Saunders is out on 3 January (Bloomsbury)

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