Suspend Your Disbelief

Shop Talk |

"The loose change in the treasury of fiction"


Why do we need a Short Story Month? The things we designate particular months or days to celebrate are the things we tend to overlook: mothers, ve terans, black history, flags. And indeed, the short story is often overlooked or dismissed in favor of its bigger, flashier, more prominent cousin, the novel.

Think about it: how many short story collections can you name? Unless you’re a fiction writer—and maybe even if you are—the answer is probably in the single digits. How many novels can you name? You see my point.

So why is the short story given such short shrift? The publishing world often insists that stories don’t sell, while many readers say they prefer to spend more time with characters than ten, fifteen, or twenty pages allow. But at the root of all this is size discrimination: the perception that because the story is smaller, it must somehow be lesser—in scope, in quality, in emotional heft.

Writing in the Guardian, Chris Power asked, “Is the short story really the novel’s poor relation?” In an eloquent defense of the short form, he argues:

[N]ovels that seek to contain multitudes, to embody a particular society at a particular time, seem doomed to fall short. The short story, by contrast, acknowledges the vastness and diversity of life by the very act of focusing on one small moment or aspect of it. The story is small precisely because life is so big. Novelists are expected to tie up loose ends, whereas the short story writer can make a virtue of ambiguity.

Power also refers to this essay by Steven Millhauser, which has been a favorite of mine since it was published in 2008:

The short story concentrates on its grain of sand, in the fierce belief that there — right there, in the palm of its hand — lies the universe. It seeks to know that grain of sand the way a lover seeks to know the face of the beloved. It looks for the moment when the grain of sand reveals its true nature. In that moment of mystic expansion, when the macrocosmic flower bursts from the microcosmic seed, the short story feels its power. It becomes bigger than itself. It becomes bigger than the novel. It becomes as big as the universe.

Here at FWR, we love novels, but we love short fiction, too. So we’re taking this month to celebrate stories and all that they do. Think of Short Story Month like Mother’s Day: an occasion to lavish extra affection on someone you sometimes forget to call, but who always holds a special place in your heart.

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