A Swim in the Pond in the Rain


A Swim in the Pond in the Rain was another title with a long waiting list at my local library. The subtitle of George Saunders' book is (In Which Four Dead Russians Give Us A Masterclass in Writing and Life). I don't know that I've read another book quite like this one. It's an instruction book that teaches us how to read, how write and how to life.

Saunders reprises the creative writing class he has given at university for twenty years, inviting us to closely read these seven short stories by four classic Russian authors (Chekov, Tolstoy, Gogol, Turgenev), to notice what they do right and how they achieve it, and also to note their flaws. While he's at it, he points out the life philosophies of these authors: what gives these stories greatness as well as technical mastery. And on top of that, he passes on his own lessons from a lifetime of pursing his own writing career.

It was really interesting to read George Saunders' writing advice straight after Graeme Simsion's. While Simsion is a planner, Saunders seems to be a 'pantser' -- his approach is to 'follow the voice' and let it reveal its secrets. He is a great one for tapping into the unconscious creative mind, the writer's intuition, and allowing the unfolding story to emerge with minimal conscious guidance -- the only question, he says, is to examine each line and judge whether it pleases you. I have to say this is not a method that appeals to me much, though I might try it if I'm really and truly stuck.

Saunders is a wonderful teacher, an accomplished, compassionate and humorous writer, and joyful company on this journey through Russian literature. But I'm not sure if he is the writing teacher for me.

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