Much like our lives, short stories are brief and end abruptly. They summon entire worlds in just a few pages and then bow out, with startling precision and compression. It is a delicate balance, and such delicate work requires small hands.
Jamaica Kincaid’s short story “Girl,” manages to show the narrator’s entire childhood in a just a few paragraphs. There's Tobias Wolff’s “Bullet in the Brain,” shows the narrator’s life flash before his eyes at the same time that it subverts the life-in-review cliché. Or Charlotte Gilman's, “The Yellow Wall Paper” with its amazing show of maddness.
No one who’s studied the short story can disagree that it is a challenging form that requires great control and skill. And yet, the novel is the favored literary form in the US. My question is why is that.
I am a huge fan of short stories and have written nearly two dozen since December of 2020. I’ve frequently been told that if I want to be a serious writer, writing a novel was key. Around this time I also began writing my first novel. Still I question, why is the short story, a form with such an extraordinary tradition, considered to be minor?
It goes without saying that commercial appeal is no measure of the success of a piece of literary art. Poets strike me as more comfortable with that assessment, perhaps because they’ve long accepted that their books might not sell well. Is monetary reward the end goal?
Writing is my passion despit it at times feeling like an impossible task. A good short story gives a jolt to the system. It offers you the world and then pulls the rug out from under your feet. Junot Díaz puts it perfectly: “Short stories are acts of bravura, and for a form junkie like me, to read a good one has all the thrill of watching a high-wire act. When the writer pulls it off sentence by sentence scene by scene page after page from first touch to last, you almost forget to breathe.”