A Swim in a Pond in the Rain: In Which Four Russians Give a Master Class on Writing, Reading, and Life

George Saunders. Random House, $28 (432p) ISBN 978-1-984856-02-9
Saunders (Lincoln in the Bardo) offers lessons from his graduate-level seminar on the Russian short story in this superb mix of instruction and literary criticism. In surveying seven stories by Anton Chekhov, Ivan Turgenev, Leo Tolstoy, and Nikolai Gogol, Saunders concludes that the secret to crafting powerful fiction is, “Always be escalating. That’s all a story is, really: a continual system of escalation.” Each story is presented in full, along with Saunders’s commentary: on Chekhov’s “In the Cart,” Saunders asks, “why we keep reading a story,” and on Tolstoy’s “Master and Man,” he writes that facts can “draw us in” when the “language isn’t particularly elevated or poetic.” Saunders’s teaching style, much like his fiction, is thoughtful with touches of whimsy, as when he breaks the action of Turgenev’s “The Singers” into a table and compares the short story writer to a roller-coaster designer. The writing advice, meanwhile, is expansive: revising, he writes, involves intuition, and he views a story as a conversation. His closing note for writers is to “go forth and do what you please.” Saunders’s generous teachings—and the classics they’re based on—are sure to please. (Jan.)
Reviewed on : 12/01/2020
Release date: 01/12/2021
Genre: Nonfiction
Book - 1 pages - 978-1-9848-5604-3
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Audio book sample courtesy of Penguin Random House Audio
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