Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Short fiction: transition or rediscovery?

Having, like most writers early in their careers, worked my way into short fiction and the occasional published story, and still looking at short fiction as part of my studies in creative writing, I was deeply interested in this recent piece in Public Books, on the short story in transition.

I'm particularly happy to see the short story move from its rather austere, elliptical and domestic form of modern realism towards something looser, more experimental and broadly imaginative. But this is hardly a transformation so much as a shift towards and even a recovery of older, more entertaining or speculative forms.

I felt the same dissatisfaction with the formal boundaries of contemporary short fiction (particularly the literary journal sort) when I started writing in the area, and so I moved steadily into the fabulists, Italo Calvino, Primo Levi, and Borges. I also felt the imaginative influence of the science fiction I had read as a child and teenager: Ray Bradbury, Ursula Le Guin and the classic SF collections. These writers opened up the possibilities of the short story again. And now we find contemporary writers such as Karen Russell and Junot Diaz retracing the footsteps of Borges and even Poe (whose Gothic tales were entertainments, not slices of reality).

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