Almost a year ago, for the month of June, I read and wrote about a short story every day, for the entire month. I’m collecting online stories again this year (already close to the requisite thirty) – though I haven’t decided whether to do the same thing again.
Any suggestions or feedback would be greatly appreciated. Si o No.
On Day 7 of last year I read and wrote about the story Sea Oak, by George Saunders. It made me want to read more. I have just finished a long, interesting, but somewhat repetitive tome and wanted something shorter and lighter. So I picked up a book of George Saunders short stories in a digital loan from my library. It was the collection Tenth of December – and has been almost universally praised, often listed as one of the best books of last year.
And it did not disappoint.
First of all, though, the negative. George Saunders has a great skill – an innovative way – with words. Sometimes it feels as if he is showing off. Unusual forms, unexpected voices, mannered style – it’s all here and may be layered a little thick. I can see why the jaded literati have are so enamored – he can be challenging. In a few places I wanted to tell him to simply get on with it.
But, still, the stories had heart. The true judge of a work is whether or not you care about the characters and in these stories you do. They will break you in unexpected places and in an unanticipated fashion.
Back to the style. One technique that he uses to devastating effect is to tell a story from several points of view – from characters that are about to intersect in surprising ways. He uses this technique to illustrate how completely different the world is seen by different people. He exposes the little lies everyone tells themselves… simply to get through the day.
The first story in the collection uses this technique in triplicate. A popular girl, an unpopular boy, and a meter reader with bad intentions all tell their own stories in their own voices, observing each other under harrowing circumstances. A delicate structure, but one of great strength.
Another story – this one available online from the New Yorker, Puppy – uses the same technique for two women. They observe and are observed by each other and both found lacking – though they both are doing the best they can.
The title story – also available online, Tenth of December – has a young boy living in a fantasy world inside his head and an older man with a big problem intersecting on a freezing mountainside. Each has no idea of the others plight but are able to arrive at an understanding in the end.
Arguably the oddest, and possible the most powerful story, the The Semplica-Girl Diaries – Read it here, too, courtesy of the New Yorker – is written as a diary from a father to future generations. The jarring language and constant use of abbreviations makes it a hard read (I was halfway through before I figured out what “SG” meant) but by the end you realize it is worth the effort. A devastating comment on consumer culture, international capitalism, and exploitation of third world workers – all disguised as a diary of a father trying to have a nice birthday party for his little girl.
So, there are three stories you can read online. If you like them, get the book – it’s worth it.
And those are three more stories I can’t use for my month of short stories in June, if I decide to do that.
Don’t worry, there are more where those came from.