Saturday, November 03, 2007

Daring Little Instruments

Short stories by nature are daring little instruments and almost always represent commensurate daring in their makers. For one thing, short stories want to give us something big but want to do it in precious little time and space. For another, they succeed by wilfully falsifying many of the observable qualities of the lived life they draw upon. They also leave out a lot of life and try to make us not worry about it. They often do funny things with time - things we know can't be done, really - but then make us go along with that. They persuade us that the human-being-like characters they show us can be significantly known on the strength of rather slight exposure; and they make us believe that entire lives can change on account of one little manufactured moment of clear-sightedness. You could say, based on this evidence, that the most fundamental character trait of short stories, other than their shortness, would seem to be audacity. More than even the sestina, short stories are the high-wire act of literature, the man keeping all those pretty plates up and spinning on skinny sticks.
An excellent piece by novelist Richard Ford on the art of the short story in the Guardian today, taken from The New Granta Book of the American Short Story which is due to be launched in the UK on Monday.

This I must have!


savante said...

Coolest description of a short story ever :)

gnute said...

Zadie Smith, in her introduction to Martha and Hanwell, also writes in appreciation of the short story. If I remember correctly, she observes that the short story is much more 'respected' in the States than in the UK.

Btw have you ever tried writing a sestina?

bibliobibuli said...

thanks gnute. yes the short story seems to be thriving more in the us than in the uk where it has even been considered an endangered species

haven't tried my hands at a sestina yet. have you? maybe there's a challenge in that?

gnute said...

I've tried a villanelle but not sestina. It's incredibly challenging but I like to have contraints anyway. On they sometimes have poetry challenges, for eg incorporating certain words into a poem. Quite a few people used to engage in it, too. Don't know about these days.