Tenth of December, by George Saunders, seemed like an experiment to determine how many different reasons I could end a story shaking.
It turns out there are at least ten.
The inner dialogue of characters often matches what I tell myself during low times, or nervous times, or when the future seems deep and scary and unapproachable. It was unsettling to hear my own berating thoughts echo back to me from the voice of a fictional character, but what worse was hearing the same pep talks I tell myself repeated in these crumbling folks.
From the comfort of my couch or an empty coffee shop, I was horribly exposed. Al Roosten was the part of me still stuck in middle school (four states and 21 years ago). My Chivalric Fiasco is anytime I’ve been drunk in public. And Escape from Spiderhead left me debating how do I return to my job tomorrow, when I’ve been called out on my hypocrisy so completely, by a stranger in Syracuse?
Each of the ten short stories, even the slightly sci-fi futuristic ones, is cruel in its brutal truth. The stories display what fragile minds tell themselves so we can do mundane things, such as smile at children or speak to strangers. The minute fantasies we tell to escape from the unbearably mundane. Saunders curled inside my head and proved that true horror is how we push against the truth.