Regretfully, I must demur from the general adoration of the short fiction of George Saunders. I try and I try, I read story after story, collection after collection, and what I find every time is a fiction of bleakness, hopelessness, and above all cynicism. Sure he knows there’s such a thing as social classes, sure he rues inequality, poverty, etc., but really, is that such a huge deal, am I supposed to be so impressed with what is after all a minimal accomplishment, acknowledging the ills of this so very ill society? These ills are obvious to one and all. If there is to be a fiction that delves deep down into them, rubs the ugly all over itself, the delve alone does not justify the fiction.
The fiction must by my lights redeem its own ugliness somehow, whether with a streak of hope even if subtle or a nod toward struggle or a kick in the reader’s teeth so hard it makes the reader get off her/his ass and do something about it all. Without any of this–and Tenth of December is indeed wholly without any of this–writer and reader merely wallow together. Well this is what so much contemporary fiction is all about, and I am just unmoved by some slight extra cleverness in the art of the wallow on Saunders’ part. The cleverness grates by the time we’re a couple stories in, and by the way does no one else find an ever heightening sameness to all the stories, a one-note bag of tricks and faux-funny tics to the cleverness, a dare I say juvenile look-at-me-Ma quality? All of which constitutes a fiction that strikes me as exceedingly cynical and pointless.
OK, I’ve tried and I’ve tried, but I won’t be fooled again.