Tenth of December: Stories

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Tenth of December
Tenth of December.jpg
US release cover
AuthorGeorge Saunders
CountryUnited States
GenreShort story collection
PublisherRandom House
Publication date
January 8, 2013
Media typePrint (hardcover)

Tenth of December is a collection of short stories by American author George Saunders. It includes stories published in various magazines between 1995 and 2009. The book was published on January 8, 2013, by Random House. One of the stories, "Home," was a 2011 Bram Stoker Award finalist.[1] Tenth of December was selected as one of the 10 Best Books of 2013 by the editors of the New York Times Book Review.[2] The collection also won the 2013 Story Prize for short-story collections[3] and the inaugural (2014) Folio Prize.[4][5][6][7]


Story Originally published in Year
"Victory Lap" The New Yorker 2009
"Sticks" Harper's 1995
"Puppy" The New Yorker 2007
"Escape from Spiderhead"[8] The New Yorker 2010
"Exhortation" -- Originally published as part of "Four Institutional Monologues" McSweeney's 2000
"Al Roosten" The New Yorker 2009
"The Semplica Girl Diaries" The New Yorker 2012
"Home" The New Yorker 2011
"My Chivalric Fiasco" Harper's 2011
"Tenth of December" The New Yorker 2011


"Victory Lap"[edit]

A young girl named Alison is kidnapped three days before her birthday. Kyle, a boy who lives nearby whose parents enforce very strict household rules, sees the event unfold and must decide whether to help Alison (who used to be his friend but stopped hanging out with him after becoming popular) or to ignore the situation to keep himself safe.


A father has a tall pole in the front yard that he constantly decorates for holidays. His child recounts life with his dad and how the man eventually lost his sanity after his wife died and began to decorate the pole in bizarre ways.


Two women, Marie and Callie, lead very different lives. Marie has a happy but cluttered life with her husband, whom she loves, and her children. They have a very messy home and constantly adopt pets. Callie has a different life. She has a husband whose job is to sell animals like kittens and puppies to people. When they are not sold, he kills them and moves on to the next sale. Callie wants nothing more than to please him, so she accepts this behavior. She also has a son, Bo, who runs away and darts in between cars on the interstate.[9] In order to keep him safe, she chains him to a tree like a dog in the backyard. She sees this as a way to keep him from escaping, because he loves it outside and hates it in the house. The two women meet when Callie tries to sell one of her husband's puppies to Marie's family, her neighbors. Marie's children love it and Marie wants to make them happy so usually accepts and buys an animal, but after seeing Bo out the window chained to a tree, she decides against it and the puppy's fate is later decided by Callie, who leaves it in a field to die.

"Escape from Spiderhead"[edit]

Because he was convicted of a crime, Jeff has been sent to an experimental prison where inhabitants are guinea pigs for a man named Ray Abnesti, a sort of warden who develops pharmaceuticals. In an experiment to determine the strength of love, Abnesti puts Jeff in a room with a woman named Heather. Neither finds the other very attractive until a drug is administered and they suddenly fall deeply in love with each other and have sex. This continues until the drug stops being administered, when they suddenly lose all love for each other. The process is repeated with Jeff and a woman named Rachel. The next day, Abnesti brings both Heather and Rachel into a room and asks Jeff to decide which woman should be drugged with Darkenfloxx, a drug that causes extreme mental and physical distress. Jeff wants no one to be hurt, but has no preference as to which should endure the drug. Satisfied, Abnesti decides not to administer the drug. Later, Jeff finds himself in a room with another man who he realizes also had sex with Rachel and Heather. He realizes that Abnesti is asking one of the women which one of the men should be given Darkenfloxx. The same result happens each time, and the drug is never administered. Later, after Abnesti presents the love drug he is developing to his superiors, he says he must go into greater depth and gives Heather Darkenfloxx, saying that Jeff must say exactly what he feels while he watches Heather suffer in order to prove he has no romantic feelings for her. But the Darkenfloxx is so damaging that Heather commits suicide to escape the pain. When Abnesti reveals that he will do the same thing to Rachel to determine whether Jeff has a romantic attachment, Jeff refuses to participate. He insists that the drug should not be used. Abnesti leaves to get a warrant to administer drugs to Jeff that will force him to comply. To prevent Rachel from being tortured, Jeff administers Darkenfloxx to himself, and while under its influence kills himself.


A letter from a man named Todd, the boss of a group of men who do mysterious work in Room 6, encourages his staff to have a positive attitude about their work, which is never named but must be guessed by the reader.

"Al Roosten"[edit]

An unsuccessful antique store owner is involved in a charity event in which he must dress up and walk down a runway in order to earn money. One of the competitors in the event is Larry Donfrey, a successful realtor for whom Al has very bitter and jealous feelings. He suppresses his hatred for Donfrey by making up elaborate schemes in his head in which the two become good friends and Al gains the respect he craves from the town.

"The Semplica Girl Diaries"[edit]

A middle-class father attempts to please his daughter Lilly and compete with a wealthier family by buying her various lavish gifts, including Semplica Girls, women trafficked from third-world countries to be used as human lawn ornaments. His sensitive younger daughter Eva frees the Semplica Girls, a felony.


A soldier named Mikey returns to live with his mother and has to learn to adapt to the new world.

"My Chivalric Fiasco"[edit]

Ted, a janitor, witnesses the rape of fellow employee Martha by Don Murray, the boss of the Medieval theme park where Ted works. Because both Martha and Don want to avoid embarrassment, Ted is given "hush money" in the form of a promotion: he is now a pacing guard. For his new job, he must take KnightLyfeⓇ, a drug that cause him to think, act, and speak like a chivalric knight. Because of his chivalry, he eventually reveals to others what happened to Martha. When Don learns of this, Ted is fired.

"Tenth of December"[edit]

A cancer patient seeking to euthanize himself in the woods meets a boy who teaches the patient about himself.


Saunders has commented that he was inspired to write the title story, "Tenth of December," after beginning to wonder how he would handle "a slow and protracted death". That later led to the idea of a man planning to freeze to death, only to be interrupted during his efforts.[10]


The collection debuted at #3 on The New York Times Hardcover Fiction Bestselling List.[11] During the week of February 24, 2013, it reached #2 on that same list.[12]

Critical reception for the book has been highly positive,[13] with the Philadelphia City Paper stating that although the stories didn't have a sense of cohesiveness, "the stories seemed tied together at the brain, like the poor unfortunates in one of the best stories in December."[14] The List praised some of the stories in the book, but wrote that the "overall effect is rather insubstantial".[15] Kirkus Reviews and Booklist both gave the compilation a starred review, with Booklist writing that the set had "unpredictable, stealthily funny, and complexly affecting stories of ludicrousness, fear, and rescue".[16][17] Entertainment Weekly gave the collection an A, saying that Saunders "is the master of joy bombs: little explosions of grin-stimulating genius that he buries throughout his deeply thoughtful, endlessly entertaining flights of imagination" and "offers an irresistible mix of humor and humanity."[18]

Reviewing the book for New York Journal of Books, Charles Holdefer wrote that it "shows the writer in excellent form and will surely rank as one of his best books to date. The opening story, "Victory Lap," is one of the strongest the author has ever written. Hilarious and alarming, it’s a tale of children in extreme danger that manages to avoid the noxious clichés often accompanying the genre. It’s also a technical marvel, compressing three distinct points of view and individual backstories into a very small space. The bold shifts of consciousness here positively sizzle."[19]

In a January 2013 cover story about the author, The New York Times Magazine called Tenth of December "The best book you'll read this year."[20]


The short story collection has been translated into Polish by translator of modern English language literature Michał Kłobukowski and published by W.A.B. in 2016.


  1. ^ Locus Magazine (2012). "Bram Stoker Award 2011 Nominees". Retrieved 2 May 2012.
  2. ^ New York Times (2013). "The 10 Best Books of 2013". Retrieved 7 December 2013.
  3. ^ "George Saunders Wins His First Book Award, The Story Prize, for Tenth of December", Larry Dark, official TSP Blog, March 5, 2014
  4. ^ "The 2014 Folio Prize Shortlist is Announced". Folio Prize. 10 February 2014. Retrieved February 13, 2014.
  5. ^ Gaby Wood (10 February 2014). "Folio Prize 2013: The Americans are coming, but not the ones we were expecting". The Daily Telegraph. Retrieved February 13, 2014.
  6. ^ Ron Charles (March 10, 2014). "George Saunders wins $67,000 for first Folio Prize". Washington Post. Retrieved March 11, 2014.
  7. ^ "Tenth of December by George Saunders wins inaugural Folio Prize 2014" (PDF). Folio Prize. 10 March 2014. Retrieved March 11, 2014.
  8. ^ "GEORGE SAUNDERS'S WILD RIDE". The New Yorker. Retrieved 19 December 2012.
  9. ^ Mckenzie, Noah (2013-07-21). "Short Fiction Daily: Puppy". Short Fiction Daily. Retrieved 2016-11-18.
  10. ^ "THIS WEEK IN FICTION: GEORGE SAUNDERS". The New Yorker. Retrieved 19 December 2012.
  11. ^ "New York Times Hardcover Fiction Bestseller List, January 27, 2013". New York Times. Retrieved 11 February 2013.
  12. ^ "New York Times Hardcover Fiction Bestseller List, February 24, 2013". New York Times. Retrieved 27 February 2013.
  13. ^ "Fiction Review: Tenth of December". Publishers Weekly. Retrieved 19 December 2012.
  14. ^ "Curl Up By The Fire". Philadelphia City Paper. Retrieved 19 December 2012.
  15. ^ "George Saunders - Tenth of December". The List. Retrieved 19 December 2012.
  16. ^ "Review: Tenth of December". Kirkus Reviews. Retrieved 19 December 2012.
  17. ^ "Review: Tenth of December". Booklist. Retrieved 19 December 2012.
  18. ^ Brunner, Rob. Tenth of December. Entertainment Weekly, January 11, 2013, p. 87.
  19. ^ "Tenth of December: Stories". New York Journal of Books. Retrieved 8 January 2013.Holdefer, Charles.
  20. ^ "George Saunders Just Wrote The Best Book You'll Read This Year". The New York Times Magazine. Retrieved 1 February 2013. Lovell, Joel

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