Sunday, September 15, 2013

New Reviews: Tenth of December by George Saunders/ All That Is by James Salter

Catching up on some books published earlier this year I first approached Tenth of December by George Saunders. Wow! What words to describe his original thought and unique story lines? Satire described by the New York Times as 'dark and demented', likened to 'the illegitimate offspring of Nathaniel West and Kurt Vonnegut' these comments go someway o preparing you for the unusual and mind-opening ride that is the experience of reading George Saunders.
Tenth of December is a collection of ten short stories published in various literary magazines between 1995 and 2009. Saunders world is both dark and surreal. Unsure sometimes if we really know what is going on, he takes us on journeys that are both unbelievable in their outlandishness as well as being scary in their truth of the potential of human nature in all its guises. Certain stories stick long with you after reading, be it for its disturbing nature or its insight into what could be. With tales ranging from the father who dressed the pole in the backyard for all occasions, internal memos to employees, futuristic drug trials on prisoners to a decorative use for female immigrants.
Daring in approach and stretching the readers mind to accommodate new concepts in storytelling, you experience the extreme feelings of laugh-out-loud and tears of shame.

Tenth of December is published by Bloomsbury

The publishing of All That Is by James Salter was hailed as 'an extraordinary literary event.' Salter, now in his late 80s has written a novel opening in the US naval battles with Japan and introducing Philip Bowman, a man who returns to postwar America and finds himself in the world of publishing, a literary career in a newly emerging and still somewhat private world. His falling in love and eventual marriage brings him in touch with another world that of the wealthy Anglo Americans but love evades him in reality and he takes time to find true love.
Covering important periods of American history and equally important human emotions, Salter is known for his sparse and sometimes haunting prose. The problem with this sparsity is that sometimes it is hard for the reader to get that all important connection with the character, to feel a need to follow their life tribulations. Phrases abound in his praise such as 'elegant' , 'highest artistry' and 'vividly imagined'. All these are true but my patience for Bowman sometimes wore thin in his muted quest for life. The disconnect is all relevant in Salter's writing, as is the affording of the same emotion for common events and tragedy however his more intimate sexual passages are sometimes questionable or even maybe clunky. The wandering between characters and the loose plot cohesion do not do justice to the beauty of the prose and ultimately the reader just does not feel the required sympathy for the main characters necessary to really love this book.

All That Is is published by Picador

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