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Many of these stories seemed to have been pared down to a nearly unreadable core of brisk verbs and vivid nouns.An indiscriminate premium has been placed on the particular, the tactile, the “crisp,” and the “tart”—as if literary worth should be calibrated by resemblance to an apple (or, in the lingo of hyperspecificity, a Mc Intosh).
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.
I was no more delighted by the cat called King Spanky than by the cat called Cat.
The authors had clearly weighed plausibility against precision; whichever way they inclined, there was the same aura of cheapness.
Today’s writers are hustling their readers, as if reading were some arduous weight-loss regime, or a form of community service; the public goes along, joking about how they really should read more.
Oprah uses identical rhetoric to advocate reading and fitness; Martha Nussbaum touts literature as an exercise regime for compassion.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 .Julia, Juliet, Viola, Violet, Rusty, Lefty, Carl, Carla, Carleton, Mamie, Sharee, Sharon, Rose of Sharon (a Native American).In acknowledgment of the times, the 20 volumes each contain exactly one Middle East story, each featuring a character called Hassan. I was no less annoyed by John Briggs or John Hillman than by Sybil Mildred Clemm Legrand Pascal, who invites the reader to call her Miss Sibby.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.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.It’s like a confidence man who rushes up and claps you on the shoulder, trying to make you think you already know him.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.