Self is So Tired of This: What is an “American” Short Story?

Excerpt from A. O. Scott’s New York Times piece on “the American Short Story” :

To call an American writer a master of the short story can be taken at best as faint praise, or at worst as an insult, akin to singling out an ambitious novelist’s journalism — or, God forbid, criticism — as her most notable accomplishment. The short story often looks like a minor or even vestigial literary form, redolent of M.F.A.-mill make-work and artistic caution. A good story may survive as classroom fodder or be appreciated as an interesting exercise, an étude rather than a sonata or a symphony.

Here is a list of authors who are mentioned in his article as particularly iconic practitioners of this rarefied genre, the genre of “the American short story”:

Raymond Carver (of course)
Herman Melville
Nathaniel Hawthorne
Henry James
Edgar Allan Poe
Flannery O’Connor
John Cheever
Donald Barthelme
Wells Tower

Yawn. Hello? There is only one woman A. O. Scott mentions: Flannery O’Connor. (Though, dear blog readers take note, Scott slips in the feminine pronoun “her” when referring to the practitioner of aforementioned “vestigial literary form.”)

There are also no writers of color.

And, in addition, this conjuring of a divide between the humble short story and the magnificent novel is old, old, old. Some of us are better at writing short stories. Some of us are better at writing novels. Which is better? Who knows? More important, who cares?

Self feels the difference is likely a matter of temperament. She knows for sure it isn’t a matter of one set of skills being superior to another. She is sure Ron Carlson, Edwidge Danticat, Gish Jen, Jhumpa Lahiri, Steven Milhauser, Joyce Carol Oates, ZZ Packer and Bienvenido Santos (among others) would agree.

Stay tuned, dear blog readers, stay tuned.

Monday Evening: A Reading in the City

Went to a lovely reading in the City — at Booksmith, in the Haight. Self had not been to the Haight since the time she and a group of Stanford grad students (a group that included her future hubby, and a few Mechanical Engineering students, and her roommate, a Mount Holyoke grad named Linda K) went to see “Caligula,” starring Malcolm McDowell, waaay back in the early 1980s. Then, San Francisco was a completely different city. Tonight, there were only whiffs of that old city, in the tattoo parlors, and in the funky psychedelic store fronts, and the waif-like youths squatting on the pavement, and begging (but very mildly: when self turned away, they would say, pleasantly, “Have a good evening!”)

The reading was by Kate Brady, for her new book, The Mechanics of Falling (University of Nevada Press), which has not been out very long and is already a San Francisco Chronicle bestseller. Way to go, Kate!

Kate has a lovely reading voice, and her story was just as lovely. Self never thought she could get so wrapped up in the story of a man and a woman and horses. The crowd was rapt, and it was good to see Kate, and her husband, Steven, again. Self was glad that Steven said he’d been writing. She loved the novel he wrote, about a family escaping the Holocaust and settling in Los Angeles.

The bookstore was interesting: right across the aisle from the children’s books section was the section featuring books like The Cannabis Companion and Leary on Drugs! A little later, when self and her friend Sandy were driving home, they saw on Octavia a store called “J’s Pots of Soul.”

Sandy and self had dinner at a Cuban restaurant called Cha-Cha-Cha, recommended by someone on Chowhound. Self’s lechon asado was dee-lish! The pork was so tender it practically melted in self’s mouth! And Sandy had paella which was also dee-lish! And to go with the wonderful meal, self had sangria, which meant that when she arrived at the bookstore, her face was flaming red, and she had to assure Steven she was not, actually, inebriated.

When self came home, hubby informed her that No. Carlina had beat Michigan State, and that the game hadn’t even been close. Stay tuned, dear blog readers, stay tuned.

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