Book Review: A Swim in a Pond in the Rain, by George Saunders

OK. First off, I don't like the title. It comes from the author's commentary regarding one of the short stories, "Gooseberries," number six of the seven. For a brilliant writer and college professor like Saunders to "default" to something like this is like a great baseball hitter walking intentionally instead of taking a swing in a game. But allow little ol' me to continue.

On a positive nature, these are seven short stories from a handful of brilliant Russian writers who worked in the 1800's and early 1900's. Three are by Anton Chekhov, two by Leo Tolstoy, and one each by Ivan Turgenev and Nikolay Gogol. The commentary that follows is more of less an in-person lecture done beautifully between Dr. Saunders and us, the readers. I felt his presence and vicariously became one of the five or six fortunate students at Syracuse who won the lottery and were selected from the five or six hundred who requested to attend his class on writing.

Like all my book reviews, I take notes and stick them in the text, then go back when I am finished and compile then into, hopefully, some cogent form of summary. Saunders comments both on the stories themselves as well as advice to writers. He notes the details of each short story that make them classics. He emphasizes "escalate, escalate, and escalate" in terms of building interest. He uses before and after as patterns. He points out powerful symbols, such as the wormwood tree in one story.

All, in all, the combination of the seven short stories as well as Saunders' comments and humor are a wonderful combination. Enjoy!

4 Responses

  1. Nice! Your comments reminded me - albeit in a different context - of the class on WW I history given by a visiting professor from the University of Michigan when I was a student at K State in 1958 or '59. The professor [whose name I have forgotten] was part of the US delegation to the Versailles treaty. What an opportunity to sit at the feet of the masters!
  2. JK James George
    From Sarah: Hi, Jim. Glad to see you’re reading and writing! Hope you’re well. Give my love to Diana.
  3. JK James George
    From Elmer...Great review Jimmy. Did not know Saunders taught at Syracuse (does he still? Is he alive?). (JKG note: yes and yes!) I will definitely look into this book to further my vast knowledge of Russian authors... I wish!.
  4. JK James George
    From Curt...Thanks, Jim. I was just thinking about writing to you and asking for a book review. I’ll give A Swim a try.

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