A Swim in a Pond in the Rain by George Saunders

The much-admired author gives us entry into the chamber of his literary wisdom, both in reading and writing. With a breezy tone he walks us through the tricks of the trade, useful to enjoying literature and vital to creating it
A Swim in a Pond in the Rain by George Saunders
Random House
Hardcover | $28.00
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George Saunders is a much-loved author with a delightfully varied track record. Books, plays, criticism and reigning over it all a unique sense of humor. His latest published work is a book for writers and readers about how to do it right. Well, not quite as pedantic as that, maybe. It’s more a guide for those seeking meaning and direction in those two endeavors. A gentle guide, sometimes amusing and always interesting in a way that much literary criticism is not. Lit crit can be painful to endure, but this journey through short story creation and appreciation is enlightening in a fresh and breezy way that makes the whole a friendly experience.


Using the framework of classes he has taught for years, the author strolls beside us through seven short stories by Russian masters. Do not be afeared. He is with you every step of the way, and in a conversational and entirely casual and informal way asks the questions we might ask and, perhaps unlike us, provides answers. There are tables and lists which are completely understandable and actually offer help in understanding in novel ways I, certainly, had never imagined possible.


How did each of these characters act and react to each other and internally, and why? Why did Chekov (or whomever) say it just that way? Did it make sense to you? Where in the story did you come to accept the protagonist as a person, and not just a literary cipher? Was all that descriptive text necessary, and did it elucidate of confuse? Rather than embark on extensive lectures on aspects of style, verb usage, punctuation or the lack of it and other commonly visited academic subjects, Saunders teases out the feelings of the reader. For those doing the reading, this is revelatory in that it shows how the magician brings off the trick. For those who would write, it shows how the sleight of hand was performed. In everything is the wonder of how it actually works to make us believe, gets us to invest in the characters, become a participant rather than an observer of the action, not just someone in a chair with a book.


I have loved George Saunders works for years and am glad that he has generously revealed some of how he does such wonderful things, how he has learned to make us happy. That he is offering his wisdom to new writers presents the hope that they will follow his advice on how to make writing relevant and a joy to read.