Writers on Writing: The Art of the Short Story

By Maurice A. Lee | Go to book overview

The Justice-Dealing Machine

Clark Blaise

Passionate readers of short stories, if that is not a redundancy, should have no trouble agreeing to a few stipulations. First, the short story and its related subgenera—the sudden fictions, the story-byte, the flash, or even its stately auntie, the novella (but not the novel)—are the hot literary forms of our intermillennial age. The energy and furious activity sucks us in. So much friction, so many collisions, inside a confined space. A related stipulation: word-count considerations aside, stories are the expansive literary form of our age; novels the condensed. Stories say the most about a very few moments. The novel says the least about a great many more. When filmmakers “adapt” a novel for the screen, they're really turning a novel into a short story. A third stipulation: Every story should end (and every great story does end) on the curtain-dropping note, the intent (or the shadow of the intent), struck by Frank O'Connor at the close of “Guests of the Nation”: “And anything that happened to me afterwards, I never felt the same about again.” If not those words (and who would dare be so bold to state them now, although John Updike echoes them at the close of “A & P”: “… and my stomach kind of fell as I felt how hard the world was going to be to me hereafter”), they leave us with the feeling that something profound has been attempted, and often achieved. This is the reader-writer short-story contract: I will never feel the same way again (about whatever), after reading this story. Why begin reading a story (or writing one), if not for the expectation that perfection is achievable, and that this one might just blow the reader's (or the writer's) socks off? The same note is sounded at the close of Flannery O'Connor's “A Good Man Is Hard to Find” (“She would of been a good woman,” The

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