“Tenth of December.” By George Saunders. $15. Paperback.
“Tenth of December” was the first book I’d ever picked up written by George Saunders, and after reading the first story, “Victory Lap,” I was sure that I was reading the work of a hip-hop rapper turned short-story writer.
Flip to the back cover and the author bio says he’s not a rapper, but a 55-year-old MacArthur Fellow, college professor, journalist and Buddhist.
The obvious aspect of “Tenth of December” that brought me to my erred conclusion is the speed with which these collected stories unfold.
I appreciate the ruthlessness he must employ to leave out all that is unnecessary in a story, stripping it down to the bare essentials. Combined with his use of a poetic and lyrical vernacular, he creates a pace that readers of all levels will relish.
Saunders taps into the frantic inner dialogue of his characters in a direct and raw way, streaming from their brains directly to the page, and all of his characters are in some major trouble.
A travel agent facing stage fright, an abducted teenager and her unlikely rescuer, or an imprisoned felon subjected to experimental drug treatments. These characters are backed up against the edge of a terrifying cliff, but when they go over, it’s maybe not so terrifying as it is sublimely transformative.
The tales in this collection are possibly a bit dark for some readers (like the actual month of December), but juxtaposed against this grimness is a very strong message of hope, as in the story “Escape From Spiderhead,” where the narrator sacrifices his life for a prison-mate and reflects, “Every human, at birth, is, or at least has the potential to be, beloved of his/her mother/father. Thus every human is worthy of love.”
By Rachel Hicks
“How Should a Person Be?” By Sheila Heti. $16. Paperback.
Sheila Heti’s latest venture into the world of literature has been described as “odd,” “nearly unclassifiable” and “complex.”
When an adjective like “unclassifiable” is used, a book could go many ways. In this case, it works very well.
This book comments on everything from feminism, art, sex, friendship and self-evolution.
Luckily for the reader, however, these lofty subjects are all discussed so easily and honestly that the novel produces a realness that feels effortless.
Elements of the book may be shocking for some readers but, for me, it’s all written in such a way that others can relate.
In this book, there really isn’t any hero or “perfect” person who seems like an otherworldly creation. Everyone and their situations seem true to life.
This may be partly due to the fact that this book was inspired by true events in Heti’s life.
In this novel, we follow Sheila (also the name of main character), in the wake of a fresh divorce, struggling to finish a play she has been commissioned to write.
Suffering from a terrible writer’s block, Sheila tries to figure out the answer to the all-important question “How should a person be,” hoping the answer will help her creatively and personally.
Sheila tries to accomplish this goal by hanging out with her artist friends, in particular Margaux, and taping their conversations in an effort to see how others act and react in life.
At times almost too personal to read, “How Should a Person Be?” goes where many of us haven’t dared to wander yet still relates to our own fears, goals, sexuality and life.