Monday, April 6, 2009

More Narrative and a Demand for Pith:The American Short Story

A good article in yesterday's NYT about the short story inspired by near simultaneous new biographies of Flannery O'Connor, Donald Barthelme and John Cheever.

"Reading through their collected stories, you wonder if novels are even necessary. The imperial ambitions of a certain kind of swaggering, self-important American novel — to comprehend the totality of modern life, to limn the social, existential, sexual and political strivings of its citizens — start to seem misguided and buffoonish. More of life is glimpsed, and glimpsed more clearly, through Barthelme’s fragments, Cheever’s finely ground lenses or the pinhole camera of O’Connor’s crystalline prose."
The article by A. O. Scott goes on to say that these three writers "shared the good fortune of writing at mid-century, when the institutions of print supported the flourishing of the short story as never before or since." Well, yeah, maybe, but we've got the world wide web today, and I'll venture to say (without knowing anything really) that the dissemination of pith and narrative is at its height, even if you can't make living off of it like in the days of mass-circulation magazines.

(As an aside, the photo is of Flannery O'Connor's typewriter. How much lower the slush piles must've been back in the days of the manual typewriter and carbon copies! The word processor has generated the writer-wannabe in slush glutting droves, which in turn has spawned the evolution of the low-res MFA program as well as countless other MFA programs, all generating moolah for universities and short fiction like weeds in an empty lot in rainy season.)

Scott suggests that the Kindle might parallel the iPod's effect on music and revive the short story's popularity. I dunno. It's easy to listen to music, something you can do either actively or passively. Much/most contemporary short fiction requires concentration and a high level of reading skills, too demanding maybe, for mass consumption. Literary short fiction tends to be incestuously consumed by literary short fiction writers. Kindle might be conducive in reviving that old conceit: The Plot! Short fiction where shit actually happens!

Anyhoo, anything that touts the short story (and snorts at the novel) gets a solid woo hoo from this incestuous girl writer.

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