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  • Candace Coakley

By George, this is Good

I've always been a little overwhelmed by Russian literature, but George Saunders' heartfelt dissection of seven obscure short stories changed my mind. A Swim in a Pond in the Rain: In Which Four Russians Give a Master Class on Writing, Reading, and Life is a transformative journey that will stick with me for a long time. I imagine this craft book having a fascinating conversation with Stephen King's On Writing on my bookshelf. Maybe Anne Lamott would chirp in and they'd have a heated debate right here in my office.


I've been a fan of Saunders since I read Tenth of December almost a decade ago. He's the kind of down-to-earth yet brilliant writer I admire. I love how his mind works and how he surprises on the page. As he dissects the short stories in A Swim, he sheds light on every aspect of storytelling. Saunders explains how a story is "a linear temporal phenomenon, as is any work of art." He calls a story "a series of incremental pulses, each of which puts us in a new place relative to where we just were." He says it's a matter of noticing ourselves responding to a work of art. What a gorgeous way to look at Story.


He explains that inside every one of us is what Hemingway called "a built-in, shockproof shit detector." How do we know something is shit? We watch the way the deep, honest part of our mind reacts to it. These stories moved me and Saunders illustrates exactly how the authors did it. Because, as he says, that's what an artist does, takes responsibility.


I highly recommend taking a swim with Saunders. He is a master of craft and creativity. I recently signed up for his Story Club on Substack https://georgesaunders.substack.com.

Some days, I find his sharp voice and laid-back style are exactly what I need to get me out of a rut. Thank you, George, for your wisdom, generosity, and wit.