Let's get one thing straight: I love George Saunders.
I love his essays. I love the most recent piece of nonfiction of his that I read, and posted about here. I was glad that his latest book of stories, Tenth of December: Stories, has gotten great reviews and word-of-mouth. I want nothing but the best for George Saunders.
But reading his fiction? It is never going to be for me.
I have now tried to describe, to two of my nearest and dearest, how reading Tenth of December made me feel, and I have failed horribly both times. Let's see if I can do any better here: Reading these stories made me all itchy.
Well, "itchy" is not quite right. But I often tried these stories before going to bed, and that didn't work at all. Perhaps "uneasy" is a better descriptor. For some reason, even though Saunders is a skilled writer and there are even flashes of humor in this book, reading it gave me a strong urge to cry. I think it's because 1. even when his stories don't necessarily end unhappily, they sometimes contain unnerving or scary elements, and 2. because I know George Saunders is very intelligent and has a good grasp of human nature and society, I worry that any stories he dreams up could come true.
In the last decade or so it has become increasingly true of my reading habits that I do not like fiction that is violent or creeps me out in any way (a big reason why I am not much of a thriller or crime or mystery reader, although I still read some horror). This seems a bit strange, especially in light of the fact that I can read true crime and any other types of super-depressing nonfiction titles all day long. As near as I can figure out, it's because the events in nonfiction tend to be finite: they've already happened, and now a writer has just come along and is trying to relate what happened or make some sense of it. I am often reminded of what family members said about David Foster Wallace's writing: he tended to take some liberties in his nonfiction, but it was his fiction you really had to watch for truth. Somehow fiction makes truth too real for me.
Make any sense? Yeah, no, I know. I tried. In the meantime, do read another review* of the Saunders book so you can get a better idea of what the stories are actually about. And have a great weekend!
*Aha! The NPR reviewer sums up perfectly why this book made me itchy: "It would be tempting to believe that Saunders' fiction portrays society the way a fun-house mirror does, reflecting images that look familiar but are, finally, exaggerated and unreal. Tenth of December suggests that's not the case — that what we assumed was a nightmare is, in fact, our new reality."