Monday, January 18, 2010

The Short Story Is Dead.

This is a subject that I've come across a great number of times, in a great number of capacities. Stephen King has commented on it, so has the New York Times, and a number of other sources. It is, not surprisingly, a question that's a great concern of mine.

There are two commonly held ideas with the writing community. The first is that the short story is dead; it's an animal that struggles along, bleeding and wounded, marching toward death. The other more optimistic (sort of) thought is that, in our modern age of portable devises and short attention spans, it's not the short story that has a gloomy future but the long novel. I don't, dear unnamed thing, know quite know where I stand.

What's true of the short story is that it has no audience. They are published in, yes, Harpers and the New Yorker, but beyond that they exist in a market sustained almost entirely by the very people trying to get into the journals they subscribe to. It's possible this "know the magazine you're submitting to" business is all a clever, shady business plan.

I do my part. I'm on my second year of The Missouri Review [Which I personally recommend. It's a nice blend of fiction, poetry, book reviews, and art essays]. But if only the writer reads the contemporary short story, what's the point? The answer is prestige. That's another blog entirely. It's true that you can find literary journals (or "magazines") in your local Barnes and Noble or Borders, likely two or three solid ones and some monthly mystery-types like Ellery Queen and Alfred Hitchcock but the problem is deeper than a small audience pool.

If the short story is going to be the literature of the 21st century, then they need to step up their game. Literary journals now tend to be quarterly, roughly 8.5X11" and as thick as a short book (modern to me). The presentation is all wrong, as nice or as poor as it may be. If the suggestion that modern readers will go in for the short story has any credence, those journals will need to link with Kindle and have 99 cent downloads. As is, when I say "I do my part", All I really acknowledge is that I buy them. There's an article on Francis Bacon I've been meaning to get to for a week and that's what I want to read most in the newest volume.

But that the modern audience, given a well-packaged short story, will read is all a rather large presumption. Will a modern audience go for the short story? I honestly don't believe so. Reading isn't a matter of time, it's a matter of sentiment. The modern reader needs to be able to throw blinders up to the flashing lights and thudding car base systems that pervade out lives. It's a difficult request. Family Guy is always worth a few yucks, and you don't have to think too hard. I sing with the chorus a day or two a week on this one.

When the most read fiction of the decade are two young-adult series about a Wizard, and a Sparkly Vampire, I believe there is more to be concerned about than just the state of the short story, but of literature entirely. Art is art, after all. Money is money.

The short story is very dear to me. It's brevity necessitates focus. Your novel is a night a beers, a short story is a high-proof shot. I don't know what spawned the golden age of the short story in the 20th century, but we're weaker without them in our lives. They have a profound articulation that out 140-character society couldn't comprehend.

Is the short story dead? No. But I'm writing the Eulogy.

No comments:

Post a Comment