Beyond Good and Evil
Tenth of December:
by George Saunders
$26.00 List Price
By now, we know the George Saunders tool kit: his favored verbs, such as to “wonk.” His stylistic tics, such as “such as.” The arbitrarily capitalized phrases, copyrighted and trademarked: I CAN SPEAK! TM And we know the concerns those nouns and verbs betray: the encroachment of advertising into our emotional lives; the juxtaposition of the casual and the colloquial with the profound; the enthusiasm and earnest sincerity with which we lie to ourselves and others. In earlier collections like CivilWarLand in Bad Decline (1996) and Pastoralia (2000), Saunders indulged a fascination with melancholy ghosts, death-filled theme parks, and near-future dystopias governed by commandment-slogans like Robust Economy, Super Moral Climate! These settings were crutches, if delightfully novel ones—“a mechanical way to force me into those weird situations where some voice has to come,” as Saunders once put it.
But you could know all this and still know almost nothing about Tenth of December, Saunders’s new story collection. It’s almost hard to fathom how a writer this good could get better. But he has. A lot better, even. For a while, SaundersLand was its own distant planet. He was a maximalist—Barry Hannah raised on Saturday-morning cartoons and optimism instead of alcohol and anger. His early writing was pleasingly alien but didn’t always connect. His sentences described off-kilter worlds we could admire but never hope to fully live in: “The Mrs. likes me because after she taught me a few obscure 1800s ballads and I parlayed them into Individual Achievement Awards, I bought her