Cracking open Tenth of December is like wading into a stream of consciousness. The traditional omniscient, third-person narrator is rare in this collection of short stories–most of the stories are told through people’s inner thoughts and diaries. The voices are plaintive, petty, desperate, funny, lustful, and very human. Saunders’s characters stumble around, trying to improve their lives or impress other people, struggling ineffectively against an indifferent universe. But that makes the book sound bleak, which is only one small aspect of the whole. The stories are dark but not oppressive. In their very shortsightedness–in their total lack of insight and self-awareness–the characters reveal the absurd humor inherent in their situations. Saunders’s writing is reminiscent of the great short story masters of the 20th century, but also distinctly fresh. Recommended reading for daydreamers, misfits, and social climbers.
Read if you enjoyed: Welcome to the Monkey House by Kurt Vonnegut, Ficciones by Jorge Luis Borges
Find Tenth of December at Multnomah County Library
This quirky little collection of short stories is the first literary effort of B.J. Novak, actor and screenwriter. His distinctive voice comes through clearly in the stories, whether it’s a flirty chat between a New Yorker and an African warlord, a convoluted tale of a boy stumbling upon his principled parents’ one great lie, or a roast of Nelson Mandela. I particularly enjoyed “The Ghost of Mark Twain” and “J.C. Audetat, Translator of Don Quixote.” However, there are a few moments among the stories when the book seems a bit too clever (facetious book club prompts), or fails to live up to the premise (as in “Wikipedia Brown and the Case of the Missing bicycle”). Overall, though, it’s a quick, fun read.
Read if you enjoyed: Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? by Mindy Kaling, Hard to Admit and Harder to Escape by Sarah Manguso
Find One More Thing at Multnomh County Library
Junot Díaz has the golden touch—so far, each of his books has been better than the last. Following Drown (his 1997 collection of short stories, one of which you can hear him read here) and The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao (a sweet, heartbreaking novel about a hopeless young man on a quest to find love), comes This Is How You Lose Her, a collection of short stories that almost reads like a chapter book. The stories all center on Yunior, a Dominican-American with a singular talent for screwing up relationships. That may sound like the makings of a comedy, but this book is nothing if not sincere. I found myself rooting for Yunior, even as I watched him take one misstep after another. Díaz’s prose is lyrical and authentic at the same time, honest and earnest and painful. I can’t wait to see what he comes up with next.
Read if you enjoyed: How the García Girls Lost Their Accents by Julia Alvarez, Ten Little Indians by Sherman Alexie
Look for This Is How You Lose Her at Multnomah County Library.