Welcome to The Rise of the Short Story: a series dedicated to exploring the short story and its current renaissance. To that end – all during the month of February some of my favorite bloggers and podcasters will stop by to tell us why they love (or hate) short stories, why they think they’re back into vogue and to (of course!) recommend some of their favorites.
Trevor reviews contemporary literary fiction and modern classics (and lots of translations) at his blog The Mookse and the Gripes. He has a monthly podcast. He hosts a free forum where readers can go to discuss the books, publishers and the literary awards they care about. You can follow him on Twitter @mookse . You can also follow The Mookse and the Gripes on Facebook. Any day now he is going to start his own YouTube channel and officially become The BLOGGER KING of All Digital Media! *raises both fists above head as the word “Media” fades to an echo*
I’m guessing he drinks a LOT of coffee.
If all that weren’t enough – Trevor also has an ongoing series at his blog he calls The New Yorker Fiction Forum. There, each week, he discusses the short story from the current issue. I am so pleased that he agreed to take part in this series. Because, really, who better to tell us why the short story should be considered relevant – even essential – in the current literary climate?
I love short stories even more than I love novels. Because they are short and rely on theme and structure, they pack in a great deal of mystery that appeals to me and often work better to explore the enigmatic dynamics between and within people.
I hope that short stories are, finally, getting over a rather long period of public dismissal. It’s been great to see short story collections getting major publicity, with ones by Alice Munro, Junot Diaz, Nathan Englander, and George Saunders, to name only a few, popping up in the most unlikely places. It was pretty amazing to see The New York Times Magazine say that George Saunders’ Tenth of December would be the best book we’d read this year, even though I didn’t particularly care for the collection. And Saunders was on The Colbert Report last week. Hopefully people pick up Saunders’ collection and also realize that George Saunders’ isn’t the only collection of short stories they should pay attention to. I think this is happening, bit by bit. I sense a rising interest in the form itself, and I hope it is because more readers, perhaps initially reading a short story due to our digital culture and shorter attention spans, recognize that a short story can be deep, personal, expansive, profound, memorable, life-changing and life-affirming.
But if we want to see short stories get the respect they deserve, we’ve got a lot more work to do. Many readers still see short stories as trifles, apprentice pieces, something an immature writer does to practice in preparation for their novel. Consequently, many short story collections come off as exactly that, a series of incomplete pieces and fragments of novels churned out in an MFA workshop, only furthering the myth that the short story is “small,” corrupting marketing dynamics which in turn discourages writers from exploring the form. It wasn’t always this way, and thankfully talented short story writers are sticking to their guns, refusing — probably much to the chagrin of their publishers — to follow up a short story collection with a novel because they don’t buy into the idea that a short story is small.
We can also help short stories out by giving them a place in “serious” literary awards. For instance, it’s a shame that, in their quest to promote “the finest in fiction,” The Man Booker Prize excludes short story collections, dismissing the notion that a short story collection could be the “best” in any given year. The short story still suffers in the United Kingdom, and this could well play a part. It would also be wonderful if the Nobel Prize would reward the work of, say, Alice Munro or William Trevor, recognizing that through the short story these two writers increased the potential of world literature. Encouragingly, the Man Booker International Prize did reward Alice Munro in 2009, and this year among its finalists are three authors — Lydia Davis, Peter Stamm, and Josip Novakovich — who are well known, perhaps even primarily known, for their short stories. Discouragingly, the inclusion of short story writers has actually turned out to be one of the reasons this award is criticised as not being “serious.” Am I being pessimistic? Perhaps, but that pessimism is well overshadowed by the thrill I’ve felt ever since I fell in love with the form, and I’m optimistic that every day someone else has the same experience.
If you’re skeptical, please consider one of my favorite short story collections, William Trevor’s After Rain, and enjoy in it one of my all-time favorite short stories, ‘The Piano Tuner’s Wives’.
Trevor’s recommendation: After Rain by William Trevor. And you can find links to all Trevor’s reviews on the fiction published in The New Yorker (going back to 2009!) here.
Thank you Trevor for taking part in The Rise of the Short Story.