More on George
A couple of weeks ago and somewhat by random, a discussion in our writing group came around to George Saunders. As part of it, I mentioned a 2013 review of his short story collection, Tenth of December, by Maureen Corrigan, and how I was surprised that Corrigan had said, even emphasized, that she’d never heard of Saunders — a MacArthur Fellow, who has made regular appearances in the New Yorker. I thought maybe I remembered it all wrong, but the review is here and I stand by my earlier recollection.
Around the same time, I came upon this crazy-interesting piece on Longreads, a multi-part article based on Saunders’ fiction class on Chekhov. It’s called the Chekhov-Saunders Humanity Kit. Writer Maria Bustillos sat in on one of Saunders’ MFA classes at Syracuse and for a while couldn’t figure out how to write about the experience. She says, “In the end I made this kit, which provides a number of methods by which you can experience The Little Trilogy, and George Saunders’ teaching methods, on your own, according to your own purposes.”
After that, the world started going all Baader-Meinhof on me. I saw George Saunders everywhere.
I stumbled on this article in the Guardian, George Saunders: What Writers Really Do When They Write, where he talks about his process. This part stood out for me the most:
An artist works outside the realm of strict logic. Simply knowing one’s intention and then executing it does not make good art. Artists know this. According to Donald Barthelme: “The writer is that person who, embarking upon her task, does not know what to do.” Gerald Stern put it this way: “If you start out to write a poem about two dogs fucking, and you write a poem about two dogs fucking – then you wrote a poem about two dogs fucking.” Einstein, always the smarty-pants, outdid them both: “No worthy problem is ever solved in the plane of its original conception.”
And then, also around the same time, I heard Christopher Lydon of public radio’s Open Source interviewing George Saunders about his new novel, Lincoln in the Bardo. You can listen to George Saunders in the Afterlife here.
I haven’t read it yet, but if you have, please let me know what you think.