Saturday, 7 April 2007

JP: Entertainment in short fiction is not enough

Been corresponding with a friend who's in the States, writing a novel. He's a good (v good) short story writer with a Pushcart and several quality publishings on his CV. I asked him why he'd given up on the short story form recently:

"Well, when I'm writing a short I'm not writing the novel, y'know? The other thing is, I don't think short stories are really a form of popular entertainment anymore, and I'm all about pleasing the lizard-brains. I think a good story should have boobs and explosions in it, whereas the fiction editors at The New Yorker et al think a good story should have cancer and Russian immigrants. Whatever."

A valid point, to my mind. Where are the markets for short stories which seek to entertain? Have you read Glimmer Train or anything like that? It's this universal, bland, detached colourless MFA voice that is killing me. I'm sure it's hard to do, and I'm sure I'm missing something, but what's wrong with O. Henry? Twain? Barry Hannah? Flannery O'Connor? When did we sacrifice authorial involvement and voice in favour of controlled, glacial distance? Why did we do that? Who decided this is the way things should be? Why does everything have to make some kind of profound statement? Why is entertainment seemingly a dirty word?

It's baffling to me. As one of the lizard brains, anyway.


JP Maloney said...

I think, to be honest, that's a different subject. I don't have a problem with a story which imparts an obvious message underneath the superficial wrapping - that's most Hollywood movies, and I don't detest Hollywood nearly as much as I should. "Entertainments" can still say something, after all, even at the simplest level. No, my objection is this glacial multi-layered constructed, manufactured blandness which I find in equal parts to be joyless and soulless. Clearly, I may be missing something.

The Boot Camp Diaries said...

Sorry MJ

but I deleted the anon poster and I always will delete them. if people can't be arsed to give a name then they can fuck off.


kathmcg said...

Oh, good point, JP. What's wrong, indeed, with stories which seek merely to entertain?

Nothing at all, in my opinion. And I write them (or try to). Then I submit them to magazines which exist merely to entertain (although the occasional story in them might also make you stop and think a while).