Why, Yes, This IS The New George Saunders Collection!
By A Guy Sitting Alone At The Pizza Parlor On Valentine’s Day
Hi there! It’s possible you didn’t notice me when you sat down after ordering a decent amount of dollar-priced cheese pizza, since the look on your face indicates that you’re positively shocked and perhaps a little disgusted that a stranger is talking to you on Valentine’s Day, of all days. I swear I’m not trying to hit on you; I’d never do something so baldly ripped from a third tier Nora Ephron movie. But I just wanted to answer the obvious question I’m sure you’d be asking yourself once you’d begun to observe your surroundings, since one can only wolf down so much warm dough before needing a break.
Yes, this is a copy of Tenth of December, the new George Saunders collection, sitting on my table.
You may have heard of it before. The New York Times Magazine says it’s the best book anyone will read all year. Tom Bissell in Harper’s calls it a “masterful exegesis of one of the best living American authors,” while James Wood in the New Yorker calls it a “chilling tour-de-force you can put next to Kafka and Chekhov on the short list of history’s finest short story collections.” Everyone I know is either reading it or thinking about reading it. You get the idea, I think. It’s a book that people are supposed to know, in our ever diminishing literary culture which has splintered off into so many disconnected, discontent subsections eyeing each other with the ferocity of a starving rat that it’s hard to tell who falls where, what matters to who, and where exactly one is able to buy a book without being wracked with constrictive guilt over how one “is passively validating an antiquated publishing industry that continues to eat itself from within.” (The Atlantic, July 2012.) In this context, Tenth of December is a scene-galvanizing event, something to lash all our hopes onto as we imagine, perhaps quite foolishly, that someone will ever want to read our short stories and that one day we, like Saunders, could be feted as a national event.
My favorite story? To be honest, I haven’t started it. I’m told I’ll empathize with the character “Kyle Boot” in the first story, for the way he’s paralyzed into inaction due to parental mollycoddling and unresolved, unexplored heterosexual psychosis (who hasn’t been there, right?) and with the unnamed father character in the two-page “Sticks” for his schizophrenic readjustment of the family front lawn as a reaction to what I’m told is the random, unfeeling pattern of a world he can only begin to not understand. I’m told I will laugh a lot, since Saunders is “the premier satirist of a society that’s even more pathetically dreary than it realizes” (Thomas Pynchon, on the back cover) and “way funnier than Tucker Max” (my roommate, on the couch as we split a bottle of wine at 2 P.M. earlier today).
But no, I haven’t started it yet. In fact, I’m unsure of how to even open the cover. It’s very important to me that my reading choices be carefully presented as thoughtful and considered, even to a stranger. Sometimes I sit in public and think of ways to draw attention to whatever book I’m holding, whether that means oh-so carefully angling the cover jacket as I ride the train so anyone at eye level can identify the text and immediately think to themselves, “I can only imagine the vast emotional interior of anyone who’s already on the fifth installation of Proust” or simply dropping it strategically so that some potentially conversational bookish man or woman will reach to pick it up. I am the only one of my friends who continues to update his Goodreads account, which often reflects books I’ve only thought about reading, looked at, or thought about looking at as to reflect the type of aspirational reader I’d like to be. My room contains six fully constructed Billy bookshelves from Ikea, which makes it a little hard to open the closet but is well worth it for how good I’ll feel once they’re all filled up. I mean, you just don’t start reading the new George Saunders collection—you have to make damn sure the moment is right.
I don’t want to keep you for too long. I just want to mention that I think we’ve had a breakthrough, and that I’m potentially going to crack this thing open now that we’ve had the chance to talk so that I’ve had the chance to impress my intellectual sensitivity onto someone else even though the look on your face continues to tell me that you’d rather I impress my face onto someone’s fist. That’s fine. I understand, I do. But I’ll be sitting over here, probably ordering up another round of slices since I’ve really got nowhere to be, and because there’s something like 300 pages of carefully cultivated prose and meticulous thematic engineering to explore before I go home. What could be better?