Monday, June 23, 2014

Don't Call It a Comeback

Over at The Quivering Pen blog, David Abrams has published his extensive and knowledgeable Great Big Roundup of 2014 Short Story Collections, as well as an addendum to that list, which together cite more than sixty short story collections. And Abrams has something interesting to say about each one of them. Even more short story collections have been or will be published in 2014—probably well over a hundred altogether. And you'll see posts on this blog from authors whose books we will be considering for The Story Prize throughout the year.

Please, please, please don't say that the short story is enjoying a renaissance or anything along those lines. It isn't. This is consistent with the output I've seen over ten years of reading story collections for The Story Prize. Just because someone is only noticing it now doesn't mean it's only happening now. The short story comeback piece is one of two no one should ever write again, in my opinion. Nor should it be the preamble to a review by a reviewer who clearly hasn't been keeping up.

The other piece that I hope to never see again is the one on the death of the short story. It hasn't happened, and isn't going to happen, because writers will always be interested in exploring the many artistic and storytelling possibilities inherent in the form. Period. Established writers will continue to write stories or return to them. And emerging writers will start out writing them—and in many cases will continue to do so throughout their careers.

Two other angles that are equally dubious are taking potshots at MFA programs and bemoaning what someone might perceive to be a dominant style (past or present). Writing students aren't tabla rosas subject to the imposition of a particular style or approach. Most have already established their own approaches and are in a studio program to gain time to write and to hone their skills. And no one style has predominated in the past hundred years or more, despite perception. Examples to the contrary abound.

The big publishers have done a very good job of supporting short fiction. I speak to agents and editors who truly have a passion for short fiction. But the support commercial publishers can offer to short story collections does have practical limits. While some story collections have made the best-seller lists (Junot Diaz, George Saunders, and Lorrie Moore, to name a few), most won't break into the black. Commercial publishers are supporting the form because they are supporting authors they are committed to and because they know it's smart to get in on the ground floor of potentially great writing careers. What has been a particular boon to the form has been the support of both established independent publishers and small presses, old and new, which together help publish and promote a great many other deserving books each year.

Whether you like short fiction or not (another tired reviewing approach is the "I generally don't like short story collections but I like this book" approach), it's not going anywhere. Anyone who follows the form knows this, and anyone who doesn't should inform him or herself before resorting to sweeping generalizations and tired observations about the so-called state of short fiction. The story is bigger than any of us.