Tenth Of December by George Saunders, 2011
The magic trick:
Blending the thoughts, backstories and lives of two separate protagonists into one and then separating them again
Hey, I know it’s not a Christmas story. But c’mon, I had to run it today, right? I had to.
We’ve seen this kind of thing before from Saunders. This story combines both his gift for representing internal monologues of different characters and his penchant for switching perspectives mid-story. He is particularly good at the perspective-switch thing in this one. In fact, he goes back and forth between protagonists – hero/victim, rescuer/rescue – so well that I occasionally got lost as to who was who, which was which. Saunders uses ambiguous pronouns. Even the characters’ backstories and central conflicts melded so as to think they were the same person. It almost felt like it was drifting into magical realism territory. Of course, by the end, their stories individualize even as they intersect, but that only makes their link feel all the more magical and powerful. And that’s quite a trick on Saunders’s part.
Big day today.
I mean, sure, it would have been nice to have a chance to say a proper goodbye.
But at what cost?
Exactly. And see—he knew that.
He was a father. That’s what a father does.
Eases the burdens of those he loves.
Saves the ones he loves from painful last images that might endure for a lifetime.
Soon Allen had become THAT. And no one was going to fault anybody for avoiding THAT. Sometimes he and Mom would huddle in the kitchen. Rather than risk incurring the wrath of THAT. Even THAT understood the deal. You’d trot in a glass of water, set it down, say, very politely, Anything else, Allen? And you’d see THAT thinking, All these years I was so good to you people and now I am merely THAT? Sometimes the gentle Allen would be inside there, too, indicating, with his eyes, Look, go away, please go away, I am trying so hard not to call you KANT!