Saunders-mania reached a fever pitch early this year, with rapturous articles everywhere you looked. By the time I got around to reading Tenth of December, I was pretty sure there was no way it could live up to the hype — especially since so many other authors had imitated Saunders, at that point, that his own dystopian stylings seemed in danger of being clichéd. Saunders’s Kafkaesque tales of humiliation, complicity, and dehumanization had struck an exposed nerve in the era of pervasive surveillance, smartphones, and bitter irony. But I wasn’t prepared for how moving several of the stories in this volume were — and how indelibly they’ve stayed in my mind. You get the same sense of being crushed by life, and the same parodies of weird organizations — but there’s also a stronger feeling of compassion for these hapless people than I got from the previous book of his that I’d read, Pastoralia. The influence of Saunders’s old mentor Tobias Wolff showed through strongly. You really feel for the father who wants to give his daughter the status she craves at any cost, in “Semplica Girl Diaries,” or the failing egomaniac businessman in “Al Roosten.” I’ve read a lot of copies of George Saunders, of varying quality, in the last few years — but this book re-established him in my mind as an original.
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