I was in the middle of one of the best stories in this collection when I thought, “Deja vu.” I really thought I had dreamed this exact story at some point in that laddered cradle of a dorm room bed. Somehow Saunders and I were sharing the same story column. He had stolen this science fiction idea straight out of a ladle of drool. I was sure of it. And then I remembered the McCorkle had requested we read this one in our science fiction lessons. Unlike JK Rowling, Saunders isn’t afraid to just kill off one of his characters, let their soul float above the death room and have them evaporate into blue cloud. He’s a beautiful writer and a writer of momentum.
Never once did I want to take a break, okay, that’s a lie. I did get bogged down in the “Semplica Girl Diaries.” I had to actually google what an SG was because the science fiction in that story was so over my head. I couldn’t fathom that people would possibly plug women of sex and slave trades and third world woe into their yards like Christmas lights. After I discovered the truth, I wondered if they dangled their legs over gutters to entice the neighbors, if they waved to passerby’s walking their dog and staring from the driver’s side window. What truth did their eyes say, that the dresses of roses couldn’t. I actually read Chuck Palahniuk’s new story, “Zombie” just after I finished “Semplica Girl Diaries” and confused the two. In “Zombie” students are using a defibrillator for their bad deeds, and I was thinking that the SGs were plugged into defibrillator stickers. It was a strange late night reading session.
“Semplica Girl Diaries” wasn’t my favorite story in the collection, but I was moved like a rolling boulder by the last story (and title story), “Tenth of December.” The idea of an old man without a coat, staring death in the face up a snow-bound hill was too muchness. A young boy who wants so badly to hit a peak in high school notices his coat resting on a bench and starts on a hero’s journey with both hero’s becoming themselves again afterwards. It was seriously one of the most heartwarming stories I’ve ever read. It didn’t make my eyes dampen like “Zombie,” but I did feel like I knew the kid and I could know the old man. These were real people set in a reality of shadow. The boy spent the story imagining the responses of his “woman crush Wednesday” and the old man spent the story thinking about how he was saving his children from the last months of his illness during the decline. I often think about what will happen when the older people in my life that I love, have to inevitably decline. I don’t worry that I will be washing them by myself, or keeping their mind alive with photo album memories, I more worry that they won’t be the same valiant supporter that I’ve known for my lifetime. This story taught me not to worry because never is all hope lost. We can watch those we love drowned in illness, but that thimble of hope is everything.
My favorite stories by far in the collection were, “Victory Lap,” and “Sticks.” “Sticks” is just a page and three quarters. It’s about holiday decorations and family sadness. It might also have one of the best endings for flash fiction … ever. From LOVE to the city drainage system. “Victory Lap” is about a high school boy who winds up saving the dancing princess that lives behind him. This is truly my childhood nightmare. When I picked my room at my parent’s house, I picked it because it had the street light right outside the front window with an oak tree balancing its limbs on the house. It felt safe right away. It was a giant flashlight. It was a tadpole of sun in the dark. I just thought that no one would climb on the trash can to get to this roof and this window, I still feared this, but then my dad painted the window shut accidentally and I felt even that much more safe. “Victory Lap” is the reason why I chose the room with the lighted view. Seriously, this story scared the shit out of my high school self. I had a brief flash back to the time I thought someone was peering into our living room. It still gives me willies.
I think that’s my favorite part about George Saunders. I picked his book up expecting nothing other than reading a great 2013 read thanks to the Goodreads’ Choice Awards, but it turned out to be all the things I feared, and all the things I found beautiful, in different stories. It gives me hope for humanity, it scares me for humanity, and not just global warming wise, but weird, non empathetic, humanity wise. This collection will make science look like more than a petri dish and make our culture look both heartless, and lionhearted.