Every now and then we are enriched by the views of an acclaimed writer, and for a thorough 432 pages George Saunders does precisely this, guiding us through the works of Russian writers such as Tolstoy, Gogol and Chekhov. With A Swim in a Pond with the Rain, the New York Times bestselling, Booker Prize–winning author of Lincoln in the Bardo and Tenth of December comes a literary master class on what makes a great story and what they can inform us about the current world.

For the last twenty years, George Saunders has been teaching a class on the Russian short story to his MFA students at Syracuse University. With this work of literary criticism Saunders generously offers a taster of what he and his students have discovered together over the years. Paired with iconic short stories by Chekhov, Turgenev, Tolstoy, and Gogol, the seven essays in this book are geared for anyone interested in how fiction works and why it’s more relevant than ever in these uncertain and curious times.

In his introduction, Saunders writes, “We’re going to enter seven fastidiously constructed scale models of the world, made for a specific purpose that our time maybe doesn’t fully endorse but that these writers accepted implicitly as the aim of art—namely, to ask the big questions, questions like, How are we supposed to be living down here? What were we put here to accomplish? What should we value? What is truth, anyway, and how might we recognize it?” He approaches the stories technically yet accessibly, and through them explains how narrative functions; why we stay immersed in a story and why we resist it; but he also addresses the writers morals and values, making it all the more interesting. Thick with detail and thorough in his approach, the wit and humour of Saunders as well as these observations of the works of Russian short storytelling keep us reading. It does however help if you have an interest in the formulas for telling tales, and how these might be altered, and also are indicative of that writer’s views/values.

A Swim in a Pond in the Rain is a deep exploration not just of how great writing works but of how the mind itself works while reading, and how these dots join in the process. Thankful for the insight into his creative writing course, this books adds further depth to the thinking behind one of the acclaimed contemporaries of literary writing.

A Swim in a Pond in the Rain is available now, published by Bloomsbury