The Tales We Tell: Perspectives on the Short Story

By Barbara Lounsberry; Susan Lohafer et al. | Go to book overview

A Novel Perspective: "It's a Short Story"

John Barth

The title of this essay is something like "It's a Short Story," for it concerns this writer's love affair with that literary genre, and although my regard for it is long standing and ongoing, our actual affair was brief. An early-middlescent fling is all it was, really, in the tumultuous 1960s, when the form was a- hundred-and-thirtysomething and pretty well domesticated, but I was thirty- plus and restless; an unprecedented (and unsuccedented) infidelity, it was, to my true love and helpmeet, the novel--whereto my steadfast commitment had produced four robust offspring already by the time I tell of, and has produced another four since, and bids to produce at least one more yet. For a season, however (a maxi-novelist's season: about six years), I strayed. It was a sweet and productive liaison dangereuse, the fruits of which were one volume of short stories in 1968 and a trio of novellas in 1972: resonant dates (the first especially) in our nation's political-cultural history, with a special poignancy in my personal scriptorial history.

You hear in what terms I recollect that interlude, no doubt pumping up the recollection a bit in its retelling. That is because I am by temperament monogamous; it was a relief to put that memorable aberration behind me and come back to husbanding the genre of the novel. And I have gone straight ever since--twenty years clean now! Though I still remember. . . . Well: it is a short story, even though it commences with a digression. I shall retell it discreetly, as such stories should be told. I'll even drop, to everyone's relief including mine, the sexual metaphor: Auf Wiedersehen, sexual metaphor.

"A yacht race! A yacht race!"

Is that exclamation familiar to all of you? (To any of you? To some of you?) The story goes, no doubt apocryphally, that in 1872, just after War and Peace

-1-

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