George Saunders's New Book on Writing Unlocks the Magic of Short Fiction
The great Russian authors of the nineteenth century paved the way for our own modernity, their creative fires stoked by the inequalities of classism, imperial oppression, and the conundrums of love and morality. And the pleasures they've provided! Our debt to them is huge. Yet who hasn't felt a twinge of intimidation when approaching Tolstoy and Chekhov and Gogol and Turgenev and Dostoevsky. Why bother climbing Olympus?
Fear not: the eminent short story writer and Booker Prize-winner George Saunders comes to the rescue with A Swim in a Pond in the Rain, an enthralling, clear-eyed, between-the-covers seminar on seven classic Russian stories and what they reveal about the form—and about human nature. For over two decades Saunders has been teaching these stories to students at Syracuse University, breaking them down page by page—even paragraph by paragraph—to distill each master's technique, how the layers (Saunders calls them "blocks") shape up and relate to one another, gently stirring like a mobile. And he acknowledges the form's unique power to pose and answer the big questions: "How are we supposed to be living down here? What are we put here to accomplish? What should we value? What is truth?"
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