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  • Candace Coakley

Lovin' Me Some Russian Short Stories

Thank you, George Saunders. I've never felt worthy of Russian literature, but your 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 book having a fascinating conversation with Stephen King's On Writing on my bookshelf.


I've been a fan of Saunders since I read Tenth of December. 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. It's a matter of noticing ourselves responding to a work of art.


He explains that inside of everyone of us is what Hemingway called "a built-in, shock proof 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 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.