On George Saunders’ “A Swim in a Pond in the Rain”

by Emrys Westacott

George Saunders’ recent book, A Swim in a Pond in the Rain, is the most enjoyable and enlightening book on literature I have ever read.

Saunders’ collections of short stories and his 2017 Booker Prize winning novel Lincoln in the Bardo have earned him numerous awards and much acclaim. He has taught creative writing at Syracuse University for many years, and his latest book is largely the fruit of his work in the classroom. Yet it will delight and instruct not just writers and writing teachers but anyone who loves literature. And it demonstrates persuasively how literature, intelligently read and reflected upon, can offer forms of wisdom that defy reduction to precisely articulated knowledge claims.

The book contains the text of seven famous short stories by nineteenth century Russian authors: three by Chekhov, two by Tolstoy, one by Turgenev, and one by Gogol. Each short story is followed by Saunders’ searching discussion of it, at the end of which one feels that one has a greatly enhanced understanding of not just how the story is constructed–how it works as art–but also of its meaning and purpose. These essays thus illustrate very effectively how interrogating a text from the perspective of a writer can deepen our appreciation of it as readers. Read more »