George Saunders writes short stories mostly set in a weird America of the near future and the futuristic present. His new collection, The Tenth of December, has garnered some extraordinary praise; The New York Times Magazine confidently (and unironically) entitled its profile of the writer, "George Saunders Has Written the Best Book You’ll Read This Year."
The collection’s title story is about a cancer patient who walks into the woods in winter hoping to commit suicide by freezing. Like many of Saunders’ stories, it contains some very dark stuff, but it’s also moving, and miraculously funny. “They never feel dark to me at the time,” Saunders tells Kurt Andersen. “I have this idea that fiction is most interesting when it’s on the worst possible day, the day it all goes to hell … If you can find the human in the moment of catastrophe, then you’ve really done something.”
Saunders studied geophysical engineering at the Colorado School of Mines. Among the few books of fiction he had on-hand were novels by Ernest Hemingway and F. Scott Fitzgerald, who he counts among his greatest influences. But Saunders says his sensibility was also shaped by Monty Python, whose skits he grew up watching with his father. “He would laugh so hard, he’d cry,” Saunders tells Kurt Andersen. “And I thought, ‘Boy, that’s power! If these guys can make my dad cry and fall off the couch, that’s really powerful.’”
(Originally aired: May 19, 2006)
Bonus Track: George Saunders reads from Tenth of December
Audio via Random House