I’ve been thinking more than usual about short stories recently, in part because The Long Gaze Back, an anthology of stories by Irish women writers edited by Sinéad Gleeson, is the current Dublin One City One Book choice, and because Lucy Caldwell, one of the writers anthologized in that volume, is editing Being Various, an anthology of new Irish short stories for Faber.
Then, in April. Gleeson tweeted an aperçu from Mavis Gallant that made me start to pay a bit more attention.
This comes from Gallant’s 1950 Collected Stories but it was new to me. Gallant is broadly right, of course, and her insight got me wondering if the inflexible requirements of book publishing haven’t meant, until very recently, that the short story has been hampered by the need to anthologize or collect it; to bind it into volumes the approximate shape and size of a novel. Has the short story been unwillingly forced to adopt an unflattering disguise, to its own detriment?
If it has, the web, and the hugely expanded possibilities offered by sites like Medium may mean that the form now has the means to free itself from the chapter-in-a-book model. In the past, the reader who wished to read short stories but wasn’t willing to buy a volume of them had very little choice but to subscribe to literary magazines. Now, there are many more options.
The immediate prompt for this post was a piece by JR Ramakrishnan in which she suggested that short stories might hold an attraction for the “attention-challenged” lover of literature who wishes to binge-read.
7 Short Story Collections To Read This Year
If you love reading but struggle to find the time, these short story collections will make you binge-read again
In a sense, of course, in its particular appeal to the reader who is short of time, the short form is deceptive. A short story may be undemanding in terms of how long it takes to read, at least for the first time, but it is demanding in other ways. It will often insist on attention, reflection, even (especially) being reread. That, indeed, is partly Gallant’s point: the story needs to be given the opportunity to do its work.
In a recent post, I was sceptical of the idea that Kristen Roupenian’s “Cat Person” had slipped past the defences of many readers by appearing to be something other than it was: a personal essay or memoir as opposed to a piece of short fiction. But, if readers are better able to distinguish fiction from memoir than some observers are willing to admit, it may still be the case that the deceptively undemanding single short story is particularly well placed to steal up on the unwary reader. Not by disguising itself as nonfiction but rather by presenting itself as something light and easily digestible. Could it be that the success of “Cat Person” indicates that there’s more of an appetite for short stories—individual, uncollected short stories—than anybody (and particularly who works in traditional publishing) had thought?
There’s certainly no problem with supply. It will be a year next month since I started to send out my weekly newsletter recommending the best short fiction I’d found on Medium. I was reasonably confident I’d find enough good fiction to sustain the newsletter; but in the event I was astounded to find so much. Fiction isn’t nearly as visible on Medium as several other kinds of writing but you shouldn’t be in any doubt that it’s there.
Once I’d started the newsletter, it quickly became clear to me that there’s a body of writers on Medium who consistently produce remarkable work. It would be impossible to do justice to any of these authors with a single entry in just one issue of the newsletter, so I decided to allow myself to recommend a second story by each of them. To date, no author has appeared more than twice, but that policy, too, may have to change.
The second author to make a second appearance was unsurprisingly one of my very favourite writers of fiction on Medium, Felicia C. Sullivan. Her story, “Blue Ruin” was in the very first issue, on 17 June 2017 and “Watching Soap Operas with the Repo Men” followed in issue 9 (20 August 2017). I noticed last week that Sullivan has deleted the second story and published a revised version under a slightly different title. I haven’t been able to tell how extensive the revisions are, because the old version is no longer available for comparison. However, while I still prefer the original title, I’m glad to confirm that the new version is every bit as powerful and compelling as its predecessor. You’ll find it here:
Watching soap operas with the men who kidnapped me
What happens when you keep getting kidnapped by men who love General Hospital?
The other story, “Blue Ruin” doesn’t seem to have been deleted but the link I included in the newsletter doesn’t work. (I think the author may have moved it to a different publication and changed the title, or maybe I just made a mistake with the original link.) Anyway, here it is, (now) under the title “We live in the blue ruin”:
Finally, since I’m throwing about links to stories by Felicia C. Sullivan, here’s a third, one that I wanted to recommend in the newsletter, before I deciding that I had to prefer the Repo Men story:
We decided to wear the sky
The summer Fiona jumped out of a window my hair turned white. We stood on the street yelling up at her window, calling…
I hope you’ll enjoy reading these stories. There are plenty more where they came from.
And, after all that, here is a list of all the fiction by me on Medium. There are several short stories, a novella and a novel, all free to read. I hope you enjoy them.