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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.
Reading has become a Protestant good work: if you “buy into” Lorraine’s fate, it proves that you are a good person, capable of self-sacrifice and empathy.
Another popular technique for waylaying the reader is the use of specificity as a shortcut to nostalgia—as if all a writer has to do is mention Little League or someone called Bucky Mc Gee, and our shared American past will do the rest of the work.
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.
One of the by-products of hyperspecificity is a preponderance of proper names.
Short Story Review Essay
For maximum specificity and minimum word count, names can’t be beat.Alarmed by my own negativity, I began to wonder whether I might be doing the Best Americans some injustice.For a point of comparison, I reread a few stories by Chekhov, who is still the ostensible role model for American “short-fiction practitioners.” (Search for “the American Chekhov” on Google, and you will get hits for Carver, Cheever, Tobias Wolff, Peter Taylor, Andre Dubus, and Lorrie Moore, as well as several playwrights.) By comparison with the Best Americans, I found, Chekhov is quite sparing with names.Today’s short stories all seem to bear an invisible check mark, the ghastly imprimatur of the fiction factory; the very sentences are animated by some kind of vegetable consciousness: “I worked for Kristin,” they seem to say, or “Jeff thought I was fucking hilarious.” Meanwhile, the ghosts of deleted paragraphs rattle their chains from the margins.I recently read from cover to cover the Best American Short Stories anthologies of 20.Granted, Chekhov was writing from a different point in the historico-philosophical dialectic: a character could be called “Gurov’s wife,” “the bureaucrat,” or “the lackey,” and nobody would take it as a political statement. Would Pushkin have managed to inspire anybody at all had he written: “The night before Countess Maria Ivanovna left for Baden Baden, a drunken coachman crashed the Mirskys’ troika into the Pronskys’ dacha”? Pushkin knew that it is neither necessary nor desirable for the first sentence of a literary work to answer the “five w’s and one h.” Many of the Best Americans assume this perverse burden.The result is not just in medias res, but in-your-face in medias res, a maze of names, subordinate clauses, and minor collisions: “The morning after her granddaughter’s frantic phone call, Lorraine skipped her usual coffee session at the Limestone Diner and drove out to the accident scene instead”; “Graves had been sick for three days when, on the long, straight highway between Mazar and Kunduz, a dark blue truck coming toward them shed its rear wheel in a spray of orange-yellow sparks.” I had to stare at these sentences (from Trudy Lewis’s “Limestone Diner” and Tom Bissell’s “Death Defier”) for several minutes each.Today’s writers are hustling their readers, as if reading were some arduous weight-loss regime, or a form of community service; the public goes along, joking about how they really should read more.Oprah uses identical rhetoric to advocate reading and fitness; Martha Nussbaum touts literature as an exercise regime for compassion.Many of these stories seemed to have been pared down to a nearly unreadable core of brisk verbs and vivid nouns.An indiscriminate premium has been placed on the particular, the tactile, the “crisp,” and the “tart”—as if literary worth should be calibrated by resemblance to an apple (or, in the lingo of hyperspecificity, a Mc Intosh).