James McBride won the National Book Award in 2013 for “The Good Lord Bird.” I’m not going to argue that “Tenth of December” by George Saunders should have won the award instead, mostly because I haven’t read “The Good Lord Bird.” That would not be fair. But nothing in life is fair, so I’m just going to say it: Saunders totally should have won that award.
I didn’t title this post “I’m Sorry, Mr. Saunders” because the guy didn’t win the award. I titled it as such because, although I was very excited to read his short story collection, I had some prejudice towards reading this book written by yet another white, male writer. And for that, I am sorry because this book was 100 percent not what I was expecting.
I thought this book was going to be pretentious and a bore to read, with little variety. I basically had the high school sophomore’s reaction to reading “The Scarlett Letter.” I was dead wrong. This book is not full of dry, verbose language. It’s hilarious and witty, and sentimental where it needs to be. It is also very dark, inflicting even.
Saunders writes his characters in what I like to think of as a combination of the omniscient and first-person narrator, both of which meander in and out of the narrative of almost every story. This combination created a haunting effect for me, almost as if “the universe” and the characters were telling the story to the reader.
One of my favorite stories in this collection is “The Semplica Girl Diaries.” The story follows a father and his family as they try to keep up the American Dream appearance as is designated by those in their neighborhood. The family is struggling financially until they catch the break that one hopes for time after time: the lottery. The money is not enough to make them millionaires, but it is enough to pay for the human lawn ornaments that are the Semplica Girls. These girls are from third world countries, each with a reason for taking on such a job.
I think this story, intentionally or not, comments on the the value many Americans place on materiality and appearances, that they forget the reason they seek those things—for the sake of their family. Contrast this with the sacrifices and struggles the girls have made for their own families and you’ve got one hell of a short story.
I give this book five out of five stars, and I give myself negative five stars out of five for thinking this book was going to be a drag to read.