October 31, 2011: “Tenth of December” by George Saunders
This story is typical Saunders—funny and touching at the same time—with a Joycean epiphany at the end. And although it’s supposed to be behind the paywall, when I clicked on the link the whole story showed up, so you might be in luck.
Saunders gives us the odd voices of two odd characters, both of whom also hear voices. We get young Robin, an overweight kid with a way-overactive imagination, on his way to the pond in the park to do battle with the Nethers, tiny creatures who live in a stone wall and who might have kidnapped the girl he has a crush on who thinks his name is Roger. Also in the park is Donald Eber, a brain-cancer patient who is considering drowning himself in order to end the burden that he has become on his wife and kids.
Meanwhile, Robin discovers Eber’s abandoned coat—abandonment is a theme here—and sees the older man by the pond. So he picks up the coat and instead of going around the pond, he decides to take a shortcut across the ice. Uh oh. Bad idea. It’s not hard to guess what happens next, or what happens after that, or how—given that I’ve mentioned that epiphany—how the story ends.
So it’s not exactly a surprising story, and I’m not a big fan of the epiphany in modern stories, but the story is still enjoyable because of those two whacked-out voices.
Also, check out the Q&A with George Saunders.