Uncategorized | August 30, 2004

Every once in awhile, a new anthology of short stories appears, and somewhere in America (usually some place like The New York Times, as is the case in this instance) a book editor picks up the phone and calls a favored reviewer and asks him or her to examine this latest anthology and to pronounce upon the state of affairs in the world of the short story. Is it ascending? Descending? Has it gone stale? Has it been revitalized? Is it dead? (You know they love it when it’s dead. That makes the best story.)

Charles McGrath does the honors this time, with The Anchor Book of New American Short Stories, edited by Ben Marcus, as the representative sample. McGrath writes that “freed from the dictates of the marketplace, short stories these days are often less formulaic, less imitative than they used to be….” He continues, “In his introduction Ben Marcus says that what is new about this work is that the authors are all ‘laboring in an entirely new stylistic moment’ and are trying to ‘puncture our inattention.’ These are stories, in other words, that are written from a certain sense of anxiety about an audience – about whether anyone is paying attention – and with just a few exceptions they tend to divide into two general camps. There are stories. . . that in the face of a dwindling audience for stories claim a kind of purist’s high ground and disdain to offer the reader anything as cheaply entertaining as narrative; instead they give us fragments to ponder, bits of many plots to assemble for ourselves.

“And then there are the stories – most of the contents of the anthology, in fact – that seem almost frantic in their eagerness to please, to strike unusual poses, to seize the reader’s attention and hold it.”

To read more from the NYT review, click here (registration may be required).

To join the debate, labor in this new stylistic moment, puncture our inattention, and/or strike an unusual pose, click the comment button over there. >>>