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'Best book' may be acquired taste

| Saturday, Jan. 26, 2013, 9:00 p.m.

REVIEW

What can you say about a book The New York Times Magazine has heralded as “the best book you'll read this year”? That maybe it's not?

And what can you say when its author is being named the “rightful heir” to Donald Barthelme, Kurt Vonnegut and Mark Twain? That maybe he's not?

Even so, George Saunders and his fourth short-story collection, “Tenth of December,” are on a literary ride most authors can only dream about.

NPR's Maureen Corrigan is unabashedly on board, after admitting she thought it would be satisfying to “topple” such Olympian pronouncements. “ ‘Tenth of December' probably will turn out to be one of the best new books I read in 2013 because Saunders is, indeed, something special,” she reported last week.

And piling on the praise, New York Times reviewer Michiko Kakutani wrote that “December” has much in common with Sherwood Anderson's classic “Winesburg, Ohio.”

Once a cult darling, Saunders, 54, has managed to break into the mainstream, with “December” entering USA Today's Best-Selling Books list last week at No. 26, impressive for a collection of quirky stories from an author millions still do not know.

Saunders is definitely an acquired taste. Some critics have even used the word “weird” to describe his distinctive stories and style. They also have used innovative, brilliant, profound, provocative, unsettling, insightful, satiric and darkly hilarious. Add manic to describe this newest collection of 10 tales.

He continues to be a master of his craft, offering up the common man in all his hopes and despair. The veteran returning from war; a cancer patient contemplating suicide until ...; an everyday father of three writing a rambling diary about his need to keep up with the Joneses, then buying lawn ornaments which happen to be live girls strung on wires. See?

But has Saunders written the best book you'll read this year?

Hard to say. It's only January. More good literature will most likely appear before 2014 dawns. Come back in December. We'll chat.

Craig Wilson is a staff writer for USA Today.

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