Tenth of December by George Saunders
Random House • $26 • ISBN 9780812993806
Pubbed January 8, 2013
The year has just begun, and right out of the starting gate, the New York Times is calling George Saunders' new collection of short stories "the best book you'll read this year." Saunders is often considered a "writer's writer," but it's possible that Tenth of December may do for Saunders what This Is How You Lose Her did for Junot Díaz—excite a brand new audience and bring him brand new recognition as one of the most brilliant writers of our age.
I started to get excited about the collection back in December when I picked up a copy of The Best American Short Stories 2012, which features titular story "Tenth of December," published in The New Yorker. Editor Tom Perrotta enjoyed the "poignant and very funny" story for the "vague kinship" he felt for the character Wallace, the young, lonely schoolboy who encounters a dying man on a frozen lake.
And then I got even more excited when I started giggling over the style sheet used in-house by the book's editors and production team (how else will you know how to edit "thrashfest"?).
Read on for an excerpt from "Tenth of December."
The pale boy with unfortunate Prince Valiant bangs and cub-like mannerisms hulked to the mudroom closet and requisitioned Dad's white coat. Then requisitioned the boots he'd spray-painted white. Painting the pellet gun white had been a no. That was a gift from Aunt Chloe. Every time she came over he had to haul it out so she could make a big stink about the woodgrain.
Today's assignation: walk to the pond, ascertain beaver dam. Likely he would be detained. By that species that lived among 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 reveled it. He would turn, level the pellet gun, intone: Are you aware of the usage of this human implement?
They were Netherworlders. Or Nethers. They had a strange bond with him. Sometimes for whole days he would just nurse their wounds. Occasionally, for a joke, he would shoot one in the butt as it fled. Who henceforth would limp for the rest of its days. Which could be as long as an additional nine million years.
Safe inside the rock wall, the shot one would go, Guys, look at my butt.
As a group, all would look at Gzeemon's butt, exchanging sullen glances of: Gzeemon shall indeed be limping for the next nine million years, poor bloke.
Because yes: Nethers tended to talk like that guy in Mary Poppins.
What are you reading today?
This Is How You Lose Her by Junot Díaz
Riverhead • $26.95 • ISBN 9781594487361
On sale September 11, 2012
Junot Díaz won the Pulitzer (and a pile of other awards) for The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, but I've always been all about Drown, his first collection of short stories and the book that singled him out as the most promising literary voice of the Dominican-American community. As much as the world recognizes him as a genius novelist, I have to say that when I heard the third book from Díaz would be a collection of short stories, I could barely contain myself. Victory for the short story!
Five years after Oscar Wao and 16 after Drown, Díaz didn't disappoint. The stories explore the strengths and failings of Dominican-American love and relationships, from cheating men to struggling immigrant families. Readers will recognize bullheaded Yunior, who first made an appearance in Drown and is a recurring protagonist in This Is How You Lose Her, as well as other characters like Yunior's brother Rafa.
One of my favorite stories from the collection, "Otravida, Otravez," does not star Yunior or any of his girlfriends, but rather a young Dominican couple trying to put down roots in the U.S. An excerpt is below:
"While he sits by the window and smokes I pull the last letter his wife wrote to him out of my purse and open it in front of him. He doesn't know how brazen I can be. One sheet, smelling of violet water. Please, Virta has written neatly at the center of the page. That's all. I smile at Ramón and place the letter back in the envelope.
Ana Iris once asked me if I loved him and I told her about the lights in my old home in the capital, how they flickered and you never knew if they would go out or not. You put down your things and you waited and couldn't do anything really until the lights decided. This, I told her, is how I feel."
Keep an eye open for an interview with Junot Díaz for This Is How You Lose Her in our September issue!