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A first line like “Lorraine skipped her usual coffee session at the Limestone Diner” is supposed to create the illusion that the reader already knows Lorraine, knows about her usual coffee, and, thus, cares why Lorraine has violated her routine.
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.
to my mind, immediately and unhappily equivalent to new American short fiction.
And yet I think the American short story is a dead form, unnaturally perpetuated, as Lukács once wrote of the chivalric romance, “by purely formal means, after the transcendental conditions for its existence have already been condemned by the historico-philosophical dialectic.” Having exhausted the conditions for its existence, the short story continues to be propagated in America by a purely formal apparatus: by the big magazines, which, if they print fiction at all, sandwich one short story per issue between features and reviews; and by workshop-based creative writing programs and their attendant literary journals.
Writers appear to be trying to identify as many concrete entities as possible, in the fewest possible words.
The result is celebrated as “lean,” “tight,” “well-honed” prose.The short story is a fundamentally unironic form, and for this reason I think it is doomed.When the available literary forms no longer match the available real-life content, the novel can reabsorb the mismatch and use it as material.Missing persons, missed opportunities, very brief encounters, occuring in the margins of “Life Itself”: when the content is minimalist, then it makes sense to follow the short-fiction dictates: condense, delete, omit.Novels, like short stories, are often about absences; but they are based on information overload.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.In “Lady with Lapdog,” Gurov’s wife gets a few lines of dialogue, but no name.Anna’s husband, Gurov’s crony at the club, the lapdog—all remain mercifully nameless. of names so relentless as in the first sentences, which are specific to the point of arbitrariness; one expects to discover that they are all acrostics, or don’t contain a single letter e. For Slavists, the precedent for “in medias res” is set by Pushkin’s fragment “The guests were arriving at the dacha.” According to Tolstoy’s wife, this sentence inspired the opening of .Today’s short stories all seem to bear an invisible check mark, the ghastly imprimatur of the fiction factory; the very sentences are animated by some kind of vegetable consciousness: “I worked for Kristin,” they seem to say, or “Jeff thought I was fucking hilarious.” Meanwhile, the ghosts of deleted paragraphs rattle their chains from the margins.I recently read from cover to cover the Best American Short Stories anthologies of 20.