Imagine a world in which poverty-stricken immigrants are displayed on manicured lawns as status symbols and ex-cons are made to prove that love is only as strong as the latest illicit substance. Now imagine that the creator of these difficult visions, satirical short-story writer George Saunders, has discovered he has feelings. Don’t worry, the author isn’t abandoning the savage wit found in earlier collections; consider his new Tenth of December a fling with fragility.
In the title story, a nerdy kid crosses an icy lake to help a suicidal older man, only to end up indebted to that man. Meanwhile, the middle-aged, misanthropic subject of ‘Al Roosten’ gets revenge after making a fool of himself at a fundraising auction.
Saunders’ dazzling style – the intricate fantasies, zippy locution and playful tone – is on display here. But this time, he favours the heart over the head. Familiar preoccupations arise (the enslaving nature of consumer culture) but where in the past Saunders might have quietly slipped in a moral, now a twist of fate reveals his characters’ unforeseen vulnerabilities.