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.
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.
The canonical example is , a work which, according to his prologue, Cervantes conceived in a prison cell in Seville.
Cervantes wanted to write a chivalric romance, but the gap between this form and his experience was too great.
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.