Wednesday, March 5, 2014

The Ocean at the End of the Lane VS Tenth of December: Dubuque Tournament of Books, Round One

This week we'll be posting the judges' decisions for the first round of the 2nd Annual Dubuque Tournament of Books. To see an overview of the judges and contestants, check out this blog post.

Judge: Bob
The Tenth of December is a collection of short stories by George Saunders who is regarded by a lot of people as the best writer of short stories alive. Someone, I don’t remember who, referred to the stories in this collection as “little joy bombs.” For the most part they are but laced with a goodly amount of sadness, horror and a little twisted humor thrown in to good effect.

“Victory Lap” is about a young boy, Kyle, who is faced with a life and death dilemma. He sees his former friend, Alison, get kidnapped and he has to decide whether or not to get involved no matter how scared he is.

“The Tenth of December” is a story about a man who is trying to kill himself by freezing himself to death. He sits outside on the 10th of December. He is interrupted in the middle of things. This is one of and maybe the best story in the collection.

Another story vying for best in collection is “Escape from Spiderhead.” It is a kind of Science Fiction Horror story. Jeff has been sent to an experimental prison, the inmates of which are at the beck and call of a sadistic warden named Abnesti. The warden develops pharmaceuticals and tests them out on the inmates. The type of drug and the experiment left me slack- jawed and wide-eyed with my socks going up and down. It’s not the kind of story you “like” because of what happens at the end but I tell you it is absolutely riveting.

Up to this point The Tenth of December was, certainly, one of the best books I read all year. That is, until I read Neil Gaiman’s The Ocean at the End of the Lane. It might be unfair to try and compare these two books because one is a novel and the other a collection of short stories. I have a preference for longer forms of fiction so Mr. Gaiman had the edge there. It was the story that did it for me. The Ocean at the End of the Lane is a much stronger story than any of the stories in The Tenth of December.

Mr. Gaiman’s novel is spellbinding, almost literally. There being a few spells cast here and there. It concerns a man who is about 40 years old. He goes back to his home town to attend a funeral. He has some time to kill so he takes a ride around town coming to rest at the place where he grew up. He starts to have these memories of the extraordinary women who lived up the lane from him when he was a kid. There was a grandmother, a mother and a daughter. He starts to remember an astonishing adventure he had that involved all three of the women but especially the daughter. As the afternoon progresses he has reverie after reverie remembering minute details of his adventure, particularly the horrific scary parts. You’ll get no spoilers from me on this one. Go and read The Ocean at the End of the Lane. It will amaze you. I don’t ever use the word awesome (to inspire awe) to describe anything because it’s overused so I’ll use a simile. The book is breathtaking and that is why I chose it to go on to Round Two in the Tournament of Books.

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