A SWIM IN A POND IN THE RAIN
(In which four Russians give a master class on reading, writing and life)
432pp. Bloomsbury. 16.99 [pounds sterling].
George Saunders is the Tom Hanks of letters --profoundly gifted and profoundly humane, so much so that we forget to miss the darkness and danger that can substitute for distinction in the art of others. In his 2013 commencement address at Syracuse University, where he teaches, Saunders exhorted students to "err in the direction of kindness". In The Brain-Dead Megaphone (2012)--his previous and, until now, only book of nonfiction--he was generous enough to find the authenticity in Dubai's steroidal glam.
Based on one of Saunders's classes, A Swim in a Pond in the Rain is a close, marvelling, grateful and precisely articulated reading of seven short stories, included in the book, by Russian masters of the nineteenth century: Anton Chekhov, Ivan Turgenev, Leo Tolstoy and Nikolai Gogol. (Chekhov and Tolstoy get multiple billing.) Many books that try to teach us how to write commit the first sin of bad writing: their guidance...