Sunday, January 16, 2011
Prose and the second by Oates:
Why does the short story lend itself so naturally to the muted but still shattering sentiments of yearning, nostalgia and regret? How many William Trevor tales focus on the moment when a heart is broken or at least badly chipped? Though Mavis Gallant’s work bristles with barbed wit and trenchant social observation, her most moving stories often pivot on romantic ruptures and repressed attraction. (This is Prose, who then goes on to note the exceptions to the rule while returning to her theme that the "short story has the power to summon, like a genie from a bottle, the ghost of lost happiness and missed chances.")
Reflecting our dazzlingly diverse culture, the contemporary American short story is virtually impossible to define. Where once the “well crafted” short story in the revered tradition of Henry James, Anton Chekhov and James Joyce was the predominant literary model — an essentially realist tradition, subtle in construction and inward rather than dramatic — now the more typical story is likely to be a first-person narration, or monologue: more akin to nonliterary sources like stand-up comedy, performance art, movies and rap music and blogs. Such prose pieces showcase distinctive “voices” as if fictional characters, long restrained by the highly polished language of their creators, have broken free to speak directly and sometimes aggressively to the reader — as in boldly vernacular stories by Junot Díaz, Chuck Palahniuk, Edwidge Danticat, George Saunders, John Edgar Wideman, Denis Johnson and T. C. Boyle, among others. (Yet Edgar Allan Poe, as long ago as 1843, brilliantly gave voice to the manic and utterly convincing murderer of “The Tell-Tale Heart” — perhaps genius is always our contemporary.) (This would be Oates)What, I wonder, do you expect when you read a contemporary short story? Where do you expect it to take you, and by what means? Where do you hope it will leave you? Who is, in your opinion, the best practitioner of the short story today?