:: Buzzwords

In praise of brevity

Junot Díaz in The Rumpus:

Well, yeah, there’s little question that short stories, like poetry, don’t get the respect they deserve in the culture — but what can you do? Like Canute, one cannot fight the sea, you have to go with your love, and hope one day, things change. And yes, I have no doubt this book could have been easily called a novel — novel status has certainly been granted to less tightly-related collections of stories. By not calling this book a novel or a short story collection, I guess I was trying to keep the door open to readers recognizing and enjoying a third form caught somewhere between the traditional novel and the standard story anthology. A form wherein we can enjoy simultaneously what is best in both the novel and the short story form. My plan was to create a book that affords readers some of the novel’s long-form pleasures but that also contains the short story’s ability to capture what is so difficult about being human — the brevity of our moments, their cruel irrevocability. In my mind what novels do best is that they immerse us deeply into our character’s world — they truly transport us deep into these spaces — but the same way you know a Hollywood movie won’t end after thirty minutes, you carry in yourself the implicit contract that the novel won’t throw you out of itself ’til the very end. That bulk of pages is a form of consolation, of security.

Of course we all know that’s not how life works. The novel that is our life can end at any time. Sometimes even on page one. We know story collections end when they end, as well — the pages serving as a countdown — but nevertheless the standard story anthology hews closer to what makes being human so hard: it reminds you with each story how quickly everything we are, everything we call our lives can change, can be upended, can disappear. Never to return. Usually at the end of each story we’re thrown clear out of the story’s world and then we’re given a new world to enter. What’s unique about a linked collection is that it can deliver both sets of narrative pleasures — the novel’s long immersion into character-world and the story anthology’s energetic (and mortal) brevity – the linked collection is unique in its ability to be both abrupt and longitudinal simultaneously. How fucking cool is that?

First posted: Monday, October 1st, 2012.

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