Count me among the many who have extravagantly praised George Saunders’ writing. Some of the passages in Tenth of December are laugh-out-loud funny, the kind that force you to read out loud so others will know what you are laughing at and which they join. Some are in fused with irony that pushes our reality buttons — the soldier who we gradually realize is returning home to mom and a not very good set of circumstances who is constantly ‘thanked for your service’ even as his day is coming to pieces.  Many of the characters are daffy, unmoored, caught in situations –some literally out of this world– yet we recognize the shapes in our own lives.  We cheer when they overcome, or simply get through. We hope Saunders will not turn nasty and make things worse as we turn the page. He doesn’t.

He reminds at times of Raymond Carver, the awkward, over the fence, out on the fringes sort of people, who choices are not always good, and recognition of those choices dim.  Their language is not polished but is expressive, carrying us into their l ‘situations.’ Dealing with an unwanted puppy, reacting to a friend’s near abduction.  We think we ourselves would never get ourselves into such an experiment, eviction, demeaning job and humiliating poverty, yet we think yes, we might; it might be possible. We hope we get the unjudgemental observation he grants his characters.

His almost epistolary style, directly speaking as if in a casual letter to a friend is beguiling.  Annoyed by his use of youngster’s ‘like’ in speech, we get why he uses it;  We warm to it.  Then we are tickled when annoyed parents say, in the middle of serious, sorting-it-out conversations, ‘don’t say like.’  The silent conversations carried on in characters’ heads, the elided, telegraphic phrases ring true. Thank god!  Others talk to themselves, too!

It would be hard to pick a favorite from the ten stories here.  ‘Puppy’ might be the most difficult, “Victory Lap’ or “Escape from Spiderhead’ the most what? Inspirational? Odd idea. You’d have to read them to see why.

Here’s an interesting interview with Saunders, and a link to some of the stories that originally appeared in The New Yorker.