Tuesday, March 11, 2014

George Saunders nabs new Folio Prize; excerpt from Tenth of December

There's a hefty new international prize on the literary scene (£40,000!), and its first winner is MacArthur fellow George Saunders for Tenth of December (which we are carrying at a discount). It's called the Folio Prize, and the inaugural judges were Michael Chabon, Lavinia Greenlaw, Sarah Hall, Nam Le, and Pankaj Mishra. They called the book “a dazzling and disturbing collection of short stories that illuminate human experience and explore figures lost in a labyrinth of troubling preoccupations.”
The judging process began with 80 works of fiction, which were then winnowed down to eight. Folio Prize founder Andrew Kidd describes their mission as follows: “Their brief was simple: to determine which eight works of English language fiction published in 2013 in the UK had most perfectly achieved what they’d set out to do. In other words what, in their view, were the most exciting and outstanding English language books to appear in the last year? They were asked to disregard nationality, ethnicity, gender and ‘lifetime achievement’ and to concentrate solely on the words on the pages in front of them.”
The award is sponsored by The Folio Society, which publishes gorgeous editions of great books. Bibliophiles worldwide are besotted with them, me included. Announcing the winner, Chair of the Judges Lavinia Greenlaw, commented: “Saunders’s stories are both artful and profound. Darkly playful, they take us to the edge of some of the most difficult questions of our time and force us to consider what lies behind and beyond them. His subject is the human self under ordinary and extraordinary pressure. His worlds are heightened versions of our own, full of inexorable confrontations from which we are not easily released. Unflinching, delightful, adventurous, compassionate, he is a true original whose work is absolutely of the moment. We have no doubt that these stories will prove only more essential in years to come.”
More kudos for Saunders:
“Riotously imaginative... Saunders has Kurt Vonnegut’s gift of combining antique, high-flown ideas with a strong empathy.”—Daily Telegraph; “The best short story writer in English – not ‘one of’, not ‘arguably’, but the Best.”—Time
NPR's Michael Schaub on Tenth of December:
Since the publication of George Saunders' 1996 debut story collection, Civilwarland in Bad Decline, journalists and scholars have been trying to figure out how to describe his writing. Nobody has come very close. The short story writer and novelist has been repeatedly called "original," which is true as far as it goes — but it doesn't go nearly far enough. Saunders blends elements of science fiction, horror and humor writing into his trademark brand of literary fiction. Even his story titles ("Downtrodden Mary's Failed Campaign of Terror," "My Flamboyant Grandson") are offbeat.
But with his new short story collection, Tenth of December, Saunders proves he's a master of a genre few people have associated with him: realism. That's not to say he has abandoned the bizarre, dystopian type of fiction that made him one of the country's most well-regarded authors; that's all still there. But in his new book, his defiant quirkiness is tempered with a dark sobriety and a sense that the world we live in is often more surreal and savage than any satire could be. Tenth of December isn't just the author's most unexpected work yet; it's also his best.
This NPR page has excerpts from several of the stories.

2 comments:

  1. As someone who has spent years (decades, I guess, by now) working off and on in the tourist industry, I really enjoyed the title story of Saunders’s second collection, Pastoralia. (A very short section from the beginning is excerpted here.)

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