>Short Praise

>A.O. Scott’s piece in Saturday’s New York Times (In Praise of the American Short Story) makes some very good points.

A young writer who turns up at the office of an editor or literary agent with a volume of stories is all but guaranteed a chilly, pitying welcome.

And yet, Scott notes, there are wonderful examples of stellar short story writers, including masters such as Melville, James, Hawthorne, and Poe, and also turns to three writers known mostly for their short work who are the subjects of recently released biographies: Barthelme, Cheever, and Flannery O’Connor.

Reading through their collected stories, you wonder if novels are even necessary. The imperial ambitions of a certain kind of swaggering, self-important American novel — to comprehend the totality of modern life, to limn the social, existential, sexual and political strivings of its citizens — start to seem misguided and buffoonish. More of life is glimpsed, and glimpsed more clearly, through Barthelme’s fragments, Cheever’s finely ground lenses or the pinhole camera of O’Connor’s crystalline prose.

And then Scott suggests that the short story may be due for a resurgence, and here he cites the recent publication of the Wells Tower collection, Everything Ravaged, Everything Burned. Basically, Scott is saying, “why write long?”

The death of the novel is yesterday’s news. The death of print may be tomorrow’s headline. But the great American short story is still being written, and awaits its readers.

I’ll write to that.

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