Thursday, June 29, 2006

What short fiction is all about

I've had an exciting day in a writerly sort of way - I was browsing the English books section of a bookstore in Zurich when I found "Runaway" which is Alice Munro's latest collection of short stories (That's her on the left).

Her last collection "Hateship, Friendship, Loveship, Marriage"came out in 2001 and I reread it last year. I even wrote a short review:

"Alice Munro is a long time favourite of mine. She writes short stories that have the impact of novels. She reconnects you to what it is to be human without any sentimentality but with a lot of truth and a dash of love and hope. I reread this collection this year and none of the nine stories have lost their savour. The last story in the collection “The Bear Came Over the Mountain” is probably one of the best short stories ever written. It looks at love, lust, betrayal, loyalty, memory and forgiveness and leaves you feeling understood and hopeful."

So I grabbed a tram to go across town to see "X-Men - The Last Stand" (what can I say- I'm a culture hound) and on my way I started to read Jonathan Franzen's introduction to Munro's collection. I almost missed the film (which, in retrospect would have been a small loss.) - Franzen knows what he's talking about (which is another way of saying that he and I agree on many thougs so he must be a man of great insight).

He explains what it is that sets short fiction apart as well as what it is that makes Munro one of the best practioners of the art. His style is witty and accessible but his content is sharp and perceptive.

He says that he likes short stories because they leave the author with no place to hide: "I like stories because it takes the best kind of talent to invent fresh characters and situations while telling the same story over and over. All fiction writers suffer from the condition of having nothing new to say, but story writers are the ones most abjectly prone to this condition. There is, again, no hiding. The craftiest old dogs, like Munro and William Trevor, don't even try."

This is something to chew on if, like me, you are a compulsive writer of short fiction. Especially in those moments when I find that I am YET AGAIN writing about guilt and lust and love and self-hate and the possiblity of redemption. It seems I may not be stuck in a rut. I may be just trying to get to the essence of the the thing. Getting to that essence may even by why I have to write.

And what is the essence?

Well I think Franzen sums it up when he says that it is difficult to summaruse a Munro story because "The only adequate summary of the text is the text itself."

That's it. That's want I want people to feel when they read what I've written - THE ONLY ADEQUATE SUMMARY OF THE TEXT IS THE TEXT ITSELF.

My writerly day was made complete when, after the ride back to (yet another) hotel room I went on-line and found that Franzen's review is available from the New York Time site.

I've given the link below. I recommend you read the article and think about what kind of writer you want to be.

And, of course, I recommend that you go out and buy "Runaway" and see for yourself what a master of the form can do.

Franzen's review

1 comment:

guile said...

i devour short stories.. runaway is the best collection i've read in the last five years :)..