While many of these stories exhibit his characteristic ‘one-step-away-from-reality’ settings and characters, this collection is stunning for the deep and varied perspectives it offers. Each story is told from the distinctive voice of one (or more) characters, and they could not be more deliriously different. Saunders is a shape changing ventriloquist, assuming the voices of various men, women, and children at will, bringing the reader right into the prefrontal cortex of some memorable and bizarre individuals.
In “Tenth of December” Saunders weaves back and forth between the perspective of an old man with a brain tumor in the last stages of sanity and a young boy who is in tremendous emotional pain. The juxtaposition of the two voices is exquisite. In “Puppy” Saunders uses voice to explore class as he volleys back and forth between two women of different social spectrums. The mental commentary the two women create around each other is pointed, painful, and true. Saunders even explores how a single character’s voice can change over time: in “By Chivalric Fiasco” a character ingests a substance that causes him to speak like a courtesan of middle ages. The drug wears off midway through a paragraph of internal monologue, and we get to witness the change on the page. Saunders is showing off, in the best possible way.
Tenth of December left me speechless. Saunders breaks the rules of writing so effortlessly he makes me wonder if those rules ever truly existed. After reading Tenth of December, I am ready to rip up everything I’ve ever written and start over, without the inhibitions this time. I regret it took me so long to sit down with a book of his stories, but I’m off to look for more.