Saturday, October 20, 2007

The short story brou-ha-ha

First there was Stephen King's essay in the New York Times Book Review.

"...writers write for whatever audience is left. In too many cases, that audience happens to consist of other writers and would-be writers who are reading the various literary magazines (and The New Yorker, of course, the holy grail of the young fiction writer) not to be entertained but to get an idea of what sells there. And this kind of reading isn’t real reading, the kind where you just can’t wait to find out what happens next (think “Youth,” by Joseph Conrad, or “Big Blonde,” by Dorothy Parker). It’s more like copping-a-feel reading. There’s something yucky about it."

Now Jean Thompson has responded on Maude Newton.

"The short story has been declared dead more times than a horror movie villain, and in similar fashion, the corpse always rises up to attack one more time. Two of the finalists for the 2007 National Book Awards are short story collections, by Lydia Davis, and by Jim Shepherd, one of Mr. King’s B.A.S.S. picks. The creature lives!
When readers complain that short stories leave them unsatisfied, confused, that they lack drama or closure, the writer must acknowledge this response. The great imperative of fiction, as Mr. King correctly notes, is making the reader care passionately about what comes next. But it’s also true that the world is complex, ambiguous, difficult; it often makes us feel lost and fearful. Any fiction that attempts to do justice to those complexities can seem disquieting in turn, if what one really wants is a clear prompt, how to react, how to feel, like a television newsperson’s intoning about a tragic vehicle accident.
The life nourishes the art, and for the artist, life resonates in ways oblique, mysterious, unexpected, so that our best work is a revelation even to ourselves. Those of us who love the short story love its capacity for such surprise, as well as its elegant compression, its craft, its many shapes and modes, as various as types of birds: hunting hawk or meadowlark, fancy chicken, migratory seabird, Woody Woodpecker cartoon, stylized origami crane."

Tip of the rainhat to Ann Gelder for the Jean Thompson post. And always happy to see Jim Shepard's name in print.

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At 11:13 AM, Blogger Ms. Theologian said...

I feel like I've seen this argument a dozen times in a dozen years on the short story board on Zoetrope.


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