Who Says Essays On Pivotal Issues In Contemporary Storytelling

Then he broke through the formal “prison”: he made the gap the subject of a book.Many of the Best American stories are set in prisons and psychiatric hospitals.The short story is a fundamentally unironic form, and for this reason I think it is doomed.

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Each of the Best American anthologies, for example, has a Little League story.

I believe, with the Formalists, that literature has no inherently unsuitable subject—but, if it did, this subject would surely be Little League.

One of the by-products of hyperspecificity is a preponderance of proper names.

For maximum specificity and minimum word count, names can’t be beat.

The canonical example is , a work which, according to his prologue, Cervantes conceived in a prison cell in Seville.

Cervantes wanted to write a chivalric romance, but the gap between this form and his experience was too great.

Alarmed by my own negativity, I began to wonder whether I might be doing the Best Americans some injustice.

For a point of comparison, I reread a few stories by Chekhov, who is still the ostensible role model for American “short-fiction practitioners.” (Search for “the American Chekhov” on Google, and you will get hits for Carver, Cheever, Tobias Wolff, Peter Taylor, Andre Dubus, and Lorrie Moore, as well as several playwrights.) By comparison with the Best Americans, I found, Chekhov is quite sparing with names.

Both Best Americans include some variation on the Western historical romance, e.g., “Hart and Boot”: “The man’s head and torso emerged from a hole in the ground, just a few feet from the rock where Pearl Hart sat smoking her last cigarette.” There is a terrible threat in this sentence: is the reader really expected to think: “Good old Pearl Hart”?

are still the old masters—Joyce Carol Oates, Alice Munro, John Updike—writers who comply with the purpose of the short-story form: namely, telling a short story. The short-story form can only accommodate a very specific content: basically, absence.

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