Short And Sweet

Sam Lipsyte lauds short stories:

Many of my greatest moments as a reader have come with short stories. Raymond Carver, Robert Coover, Chekhov, Kafka, Katherine Mansfield, Roberto Bolano, Borges, Barry Hannah, Gordon Lish, Christine Schutt, Joy Williams, Ann Beattie, Lydia Davis, George Saunders, Leonard Michaels, Donald Barthelme were all major revelations for me. I still recall reading many of their stories as distinct episodes of a nearly manic euphoria. I’ve had the same experiences with novels, of course, but perhaps fewer. Your heart breaks when even the best novel sags a tiny bit, as they all must, sort of like the give in bridge suspension. A great short story is more like a stiff plank across a narrow but bottomless crevasse. The plank will hold. But that doesn’t mean you are not in danger of freaking out and falling off.

I love writing novels and short stories, and though I started with short stories, I never thought of them as stepping stones to novels. I consider them a rich and vital artform. They are harder, really. They demand the rigor of poems. They are also a good way to start writing, because you can work on one and recognise its failure and throw it away, start another one. And years haven’t gone by. I teach writing and many students don’t even want to bother with stories. They are all at work on the novel that will deliver them riches and fame within a year or two of graduation. It will happen for one or two of them. But the rest will wish they’d played more, experimented more, hit a dozen different walls, found fresh ways to tell stories and learned about the beauty of language under pressure in the bargain.

(Hat tip: Tandeta)