Friday, April 10, 2009

The Short Story is in Good Health

A. O Scott in The New York Times speaks out against the habit of undervaluing the short story in American letters and points out that :
The great American writers of the 19th century, whose novels are now staples of the syllabus, all excelled in the short form. Herman Melville’s “Piazza Tales” are as lively and strange as “Moby-Dick”; Nathaniel Hawthorne’s tales and sketches are pithier than “The Scarlet Letter”; Henry James’s stories, supernatural and otherwise, show a gift for concision along with the master’s expected psychological acuity. And the first great American fiction writer, Edgar Allan Poe, secured his immortality by packing more sensation into a few pages than most of his contemporaries could manage in a volume.
Furthermore, the art is still alive and well :
The death of the novel is yesterday’s news. The death of print may be tomorrow’s headline. But the great American short story is still being written, and awaits its readers.
James Lasdun also writes about the neglect of the short story :
Of the literary arts the short story has always been the least honoured, trailing into the House of Fame a humble fourth after novels, plays and poetry. Between Chekhov and Cheever there can't have been more than a dozen major reputations founded solely or even largely on this unassuming form. You might have thought that in our own attention-deficient age, a narrative art based on speed and brevity would have become the main attraction, but outside the creative writing workshop, where its small scale makes it convenient for study (a dismal basis for survival), that hasn't been the case. Lack of encouragement may be the cause, or it may be something inherently skittish about whichever muse presides over this delicate art: a reluctance to settle anywhere long enough to generate a heavy-duty literary industry. It may be the relative newness of the form (if you accept Turgenev's claim that "we all come out from under Gogol's Overcoat", you can date its birth precisely to 1842), or it may be that people regard it as somehow highbrow or artsy; an insider sport for practitioners and aficionados only.
But he too sees things changing and highlights some of this Spring's exciting debuts from across the globe which he sees as indicative of a growing confidence in the form.


Drachen said...

I love short stories. I struggle to finish novels and I suspect most Malaysians do.

bibliobibuli said...

i love 'em too especially when - as now - my brain doesn't feel like swallowing a huge mass of text

Chet said...

This puts me in the mood for some Nam Le (The Boat) and Jhumpa Lahiri (Unaccustomed Earth) tonight.

Damyanti said...

At any given point of time, I am working my way through a short story collection, along with other books I'm reading. I think my love of short stories started with Chekov, and went to Maupassant and Maugham.

I loved both Interpreter of Maladies and Unaccustomed Earth, and am always in search for a great collection to dip into.

Anonymous said...

Depends on the novel. Some novels are hard to read through because the print is small (for instance) and the book is sort of thick and boring. Some books are not like that at all. Something from say Greg Iles, or James Herriot, or Terry Pratchett (his earlier ones anyway) -- those were good. Ulysses must be the best book ever if you can get past the bombast.. the tower, the man shaving, the other guy.. you can feel the cold wind, and straight away you're thinking, these two men are gay, aren't they? they have to be gay the way they behave toward each other. All that in the first few pages.

Anonymous said...

Damyanti --

Have you read Poe? that man is scary. He's proof that you don't need blood and gore to be scary.