Perhaps to start with a caution. Even though “Tenth of December” is a collection of short stories, you are going to have to work at them. This is partly because of their gritty realism, and partly because of remarkably fluid style George Saunders chooses to write them in. Often you find a mixture of real voices and imagined, thoughts and action; a kind of blend which, in a more traditional narrative, is likely to be more helpfully signposted by the author.
In this case we’re on our own – and you know what? That’s no bad thing. The style adds to the narrative, its realism; it reminds us how we go through lives ourselves, blending all those elements – actions, speech, thoughts, memories – every moment of every day.
“Tenth of December” is also a book with very little that is ‘romantic’ or ‘positive’ in it. My cover carries the quote “stories about a failing America”. That may be so – but there are some of them which, I would argue, could be transported to other places, their underlying truths about the lives of the impoverished, the disenfranchised, as much at home in some parts of the North East of England, Glasgow, Paris, as well as major conurbations States-side.
This is clearly different to “Lincoln in the Bardo” – but then Saunders’ voice seems to be a little different too. Be brave. Give it a go.
Note: perhaps the ‘Introduction’ in my volume (by Joel Lovell) would have helped the navigation through words and meaning. I don’t know, because I didn’t read it. I never read introductions. Ever. Saunders didn’t write it, and so why should I have my view of the book coloured by someone else’s interpretation even before I’ve read the first word of the actual text?