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

Random. Jan. 2021. 432p. ISBN 9781984856029. $28. LIT
Best-selling author Saunders (Lincoln in the Bardo; Tenth of December: Stories) presents a version of a class on Russian short stories that he has taught at Syracuse University to classes of the best young writers in the United States, limited to six students at a time. The book contains the texts of meticulously constructed stories by Anton Chekhov, Ivan Turgenev, Leo Tolstoy, and Nikolai Gogol, written between 1836 and 1905 during a Russian artistic renaissance, shortly before what Saunders calls “one of the bloodiest, most irrational periods in human history.” The book’s title is taken from one of Chekhov’s works in this collection. Saunders defines a story as “a series of things that happen in sequence, in which we can discern a pattern of causality,” and in which everything must serve a purpose. Each story is followed by a detailed analysis and commentary. The book, the author notes, is not intended as a “how-to” for others, but rather offers reflections on how he works. Others, he says, must determine for themselves what works best for them.
VERDICT Recommended for readers as well as writers interested in how short fiction works and why it is relevant in turbulent times.
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