George Saunders

The most acclaimed short-story writer in America today, George Saunders is masterful at creating feverishly imaginative fictional worlds. He famously set "CivilWarLand in Bad Decline" in a failing Civil War theme park and "Pastoralia" in a prehistoric caveman exhibit where Neanderthal reenactors eat goat carcasses and communicate by fax. Some of his worlds are troublingly realistic; others are bizarre yet troublingly possible. Hailed by The New York Times as "the best book you'll read this year, his new collection Tenth of December (Random House, $26) is a fairly harrowing read. Its characters face class conflict, dysfunctional families, and their own warped psyches. In "Escape From Spiderhead," a ward of the state is forced to have mind-blowingly passionate sex with a series of women, which only makes him miserable. In "Al Roosten," a businessman struggles with his self-esteem as he's auctioned off at a community fundraiser. In "The Semplica Girl Diary," a family hires a trio of poor foreign girls to dangle from a wire as their lawn ornaments. Yet Saunders' most moving stories depict acts of kindness—as when, in "Victory Lap," a 15-year-old defies his parents' strict rules to rescue a beautiful schoolmate from kidnapping. And in the title story, a cancer victim's suicide attempt is thwarted by a bumbling chubby kid. In Saunders' pages, we're surrounded as much by tenderness as by cruelty. ERIN K. THOMPSON

Mon., Feb. 4, 7:30 p.m., 2013

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