Literary reviews by Tim Love.
Warning: Rather than reviews, these are often notes in preparation for reviews that were never finished, or pleas for help with understanding pieces. See Litref Reviews - a rationale for details.

Saturday, 17 June 2017

"Tenth of December" by George Saunders (Bloomsbury, 2013)

Here's the start of the first story, "Victory Lap"

Three days shy of her fifteenth birthday, Alison Pope paused at the top of the stairs.
Say the staircase was marble. Say she descended and all heads turned. Where was {special one}? Approaching now, bowing slightly, he exclaimed, How can so much grace be contained in one small package? Oops. He he said small package? And just stood there?

We are inside Alison's fantasising mind (on p.7 there's "Was she special? Did she consider herself special? Oh, gosh, she didn't know"). On p.10 the PoV switches to Kyle Boot. 3rd person. He has a rule-making, point-tallying father. He sees someone with a knife trying to abduct Alison. On p.18 the PoV switches to the abductor. On p.21 we're back to Kyle, deciding whether to intercede. p.23 returns us to the abductor. Kyle knocks the abductor out. On p.25, from Alison's PoV, she watches as Kyle's poised to deliver a killing blow to the abductor. Dare she intercede?

Sticks" is about a page long, about a father's quirk.

"Puppy" continues the parenting theme - "When Bo got older, it would be different. Then he'd need his freedom. But now he just needed not to get killed" (p.35), thinks the mother. "when you said you were going to do a thing and didn't do it, that was how kids got into drugs" (p.36) thinks the father. A mother called Marie visits someone's house with her kids to look at an advertised puppy. The kids want it, but she notices a boy (Bo, we deduce) chained to a tree in the yard, drinking from a dog's bowl.

In "Escape for Spiderhead" criminals join a drugs test to get out of prison, using Verbaluce™, VeriTalk™, Chatease™, Darkenfloxx™, Vivistif™, etc to see if Love is real. Jeff, the main character, kills himself and becomes omniscient. That story, and "Exhortation" (a management pep-talk) and "Al Roosten" (Al becomes guilty about the envy he acted upon at a charity auction) don't work for me.

"The Semplica Girl Diaries" is in the form of a journal. A father, having gone to a rich friend's party, decides for the sake of his children that he should do better. He wins a lottery prize and splashes out on her daughter's birthday party by buying a string of 4 Semplica Girls - immigrants - to decorate the garden. The younger daughter frees them, resulting in possible financial ruin.

In "Home" a war-vet visits his ma as the bailiffs arrive. He's envious of his sibling's and remarried ex's homes. He struggles to contain his anger.

"My Chivalric Fiasco" - the boss of a place that sets up period recreations (imitation pigs, fake snow that had to be vacuumed up afterwards) promotes 2 people (Ted, the main character, and Martha) to pay for their silence. Ted has KnightLyfe® to help him play his new role, after which the language goes Disney-medieval - "Ted, I swear to God, quoth he. Put a sock in it or I will flush you down the shitter so fast" (p.211).

"Tenth of December", the title story, is online. It throws us into a strange context. Here's paragraph 2

Today’s assignation: walk to pond, ascertain beaver dam. Likely he would be detained. By that species that lived amongst the old rock wall. They were small but, upon emerging, assumed certain proportions. And gave chase. This was just their methodology. His aplomb threw them loops. He knew that. And revelled it. He would turn, level the pellet gun, intone: Are you aware of the usage of this human implement?

Blam!

They were Netherworlders. Or Nethers.

These aliens speak Disney-Cockney. But are they aliens? One of them, Eber, is trying to kill himself by walking coatless into the cold wildness - "This was too much. He hadn’t cried after the surgeries or during the chemo, but he felt like crying now ... This incredible opportunity to end things with dignity was right in his hands. ... All he had to do was stay put. I will fight no more forever. Concentrate on the beauty of the pond, the beauty of the woods, the beauty you are returning to, the beauty that is everywhere as far as you can—". A kid, trying to save him, falls through the ice. Eber saves him without him realising. The boy stumbles home, then remembering the old man, begins to return to the ice. Eber sees him - "The kid came out of the kitchen, lost in Eber’s big coat, pajama pants pooling around his feet with the boots now off. He took Eber’s bloody hand gently. Said he was sorry. Sorry for being such a dope in the woods. Sorry for running off. He’d just been out of it. Kind of scared and all.". Eber ends up more content with life.

I think the title story's the best in the book. I also like "Victory Lap", "Sticks", "Home", and "My Chivalric Fiasco" too.

Other reviews

  • Tom Cox
  • Gregory Cowles (Class anxiety is everywhere here. ... By tapping into the running interior monologues of his hopeful, fragile characters, Saunders creates a signature voice that’s simultaneously baroque and demotic — a trick he pulls off by recognizing just how florid our ordinary thoughts can be, how grandiose and delusional and self-­serving)
  • Joel Lovell (The characters speak in a strange new language — a kind of heightened bureaucratese, or a passively received vernacular that is built around self-improvement clich├ęs ... “The Semplica Girl Diaries” [] took him more than a dozen years to write ... “Semplica Girls” is a perfect illustration of the point where Saunders the technically experimental wizard and Saunders the guy whose heart exists outside of his body converge. It’s science fiction of the highest order.)
  • Leyla Sanai
  • Michael Shaub

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