Posted by: poet kate hutchinson | March 18, 2013

Book Review – Tenth of December

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Anton Chekov, the great writer (and some say inventor) of short stories, said that art should “prepare us for tenderness.”  What a beautiful thought, and one I agree with more and more.  The quote is aptly included on the book jacket of George Saunders’ new story collection, Tenth of December – the most moving work I’ve experienced in many years.  What Saunders can do to capture the complexity and pathos of a character in just a few lines is an astonishing feat of genius.  His young characters especially – primarily teenagers – are captured in their exact moment of leaping, or falling, into adulthood.

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jorge-mountaintop-300x224Saunders’ work explores all the big stuff:  What a struggle it is to grow up.  What a struggle to exist at all.  To live purposefully, to find one’s passion, to love or to give or to find a little joy or peace.  Art can rivet us to the moment, make us shed all distractions and focus our attention on what matters.  Whether we are creating it or experiencing it, a powerful story or poem or painting or song or play serves to point our focus centerward – to our own beating hearts and to the heart of the planet.  It can “prepare us for tenderness” in reminding us of the fragile mortality of every living thing.

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If you’re seeking that kind of transformative experience, I urge you to read Tenth of December.  Its stories are strange and haunting and will disorient you at first.  But then you’ll begin to get used to the imaginative quirkiness of the Saunders world, where lights shine like pinpoints on truth.  If you’re like me, you’ll find echoes of Flannery O’Connor, Raymond Carver, Kurt Vonnegut, Alice Munro, and even William Shakespeare in these stories.  They will stay with you.

To paraphrase another master, Emily Dickinson, they will take the top of your head right off.

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