Long time lurker, first time poster. :)
In connection with a personal project of mine, I would like to hear
participants views on the best American short story writers since 1950. If
you have a particular volume or two in mind that you think ably represents
these men/women's work, that'd be great.
Please, no genre fiction -- I have absolutely nothing against genre fiction,
but in this context I'm interested in the more "literary" end of things.
The Knife Thrower (Steven Millhauser)
Hyannis Boat (W.D. Wetherell)
The Complete Stories (Flannery O' Connor)
Song of the Silent Snow (Hubert Selby Jr.)
T.C. Boyle Stories (T.Coraghesson Boyle)
I like the last for his "The Ape-lady in Retirement", which I've
seen in a couple of places. Dunno if it's in that anthology.
An elderly Jane Goodall character brings home one of her
adult chimpanzees that causes havoc in the wrong place at the
I'm surprised no-one has mentioned Donald Barthelme yet, who
is arguably the granddaddy of American pomo fiction. I recall
reading his short story "The Rise of Capitalism" in _Sixty Stories_
when I first became interested in Marxism (and it's a good volume
to pick if you want to choose one, and you could add _Overnight to
Many Distant Cities_ to that if you like) I'm currently reading,
believe it or not, _Marxilainen kansantaloustiede_ by Eino Nevalainen
and Matti Antero Peltonen, a texbook of Marxist economics first
published in 1948 that I found for next to nothing in a used
bookstore...) "The Rise of Capitalism" starts as follows:
The first thing I did was make a mistake. I thought I had understood
capitalism, but what I had done was assume an attitude -- melancholy
sadness -- toward it. This attitude is not correct. Fortunately your
letter came, at that instant. "Dear Rupert, I love you every day.
You are the world, which is life. I love you I adore you I am crazy
about you. Love, Marta." Reading between the lines, I understood your
critique of my attitude toward capitalism. Always mindful that the
critic must "studiare da un punto di vista formalistico e semiologico
il rapporto fra lingua di un testo e codificazione di un -- " But
here a big thumb smudges the text -- the thumb of capitalism, which
we are all under. Darkness falls. My neighbor continues to commit
suicide, once a fortnight. I have this suicides geared into my
schedule because my role is to save him; once I was late and he spent
two days unconscious on the floor. But now that I have understood
that I have not understood capitalism, perhaps a less equivocal
position toward it can be "hammered out." My daughter demands more
Mr. Bubble for her bath. The shrimp boats lower their nets. A book
called Humorists of the 18th Century is published.
Capitalism places every man in competition with his fellows for a
share of the available wealth. A few people accumulate big piles,
but most do not. The sense of community falls victim to this struggle.
Increased abundance and prosperity are tied to growing "productivity."
A hierarchy of functionaries interposes itself between the people
and the leadership. The good of the private corporation is seen as
prior to the public good. The world market system tightens control
in the capitalist countries and terrorizes the Third World. All things
are manipulated to these ends. The King of Jordan sits at his ham radio,
inviting strangers to the palace. I visit my assistant mistress. "Well,
Azalea," I say, sitting in the best chair, "what has happened to you
since my last visit?" Azalea tells me what happened to her. She has
covered a sofa, and written a novel. Jack has behaved badly. Roger has
lost his job (replaced by an electric eye). Gigi's children are in the
hospital being detoxified, all three. Azalea herself is dying if love.
I stroke her buttocks, which are perfection, if you can have perfection,
under the capitalistic system. "It is better to marry that to burn,"
St. Paul says, but St. Paul is largely discredited now, for the
toughness of his views does not accord with the experience of
advanced industrial societies. I smoke a cigar, to disoblige the cat.
j.d. salinger's _nine_stories_
is one of *very* few collections
that i've read *repeatedly*.
the only others that come to mind --
do canadians count? -- are brian fawcett's
_cambodia_ and _public_eye_.
also cheever of course.
barthelme had quite a few gems.
lest you think i'm some sort
of rabid _new_yorker_ fan,
let me point out that updike
certainly doesn't make the short list.
somebody somewhere said
reading his stuff was like
cutting whale blubber with fingernail scissors.
r c .../Keynes.html
v s a Whether strength of body or of mind, or wisdom, or
i m p virtue, are found in proportion to the power or wealth
e a e of a man is a question fit perhaps to be discussed by
n e . slaves in the hearing of their masters, but highly
@ r c m unbecoming to reasonable and free men in search of
d o the truth. -- Rousseau
<I like the last (T.C. Boyle) for his "The Ape-lady in Retirement",
which I've seen in a couple of places. Dunno if it's in that anthology.
An elderly Jane Goodall character brings home one of her adult
chimpanzees that causes havoc in the wrong place at the wrong time.
The Ape Lady in Retirement (which won an O'Henry Award in 1989) is in
the anthology, along with twenty years of stories, dating back to
Boyle's days at Iowa Writers' Workshop.
Goodall is not the only naturalist that gets lampooned; the volume also
contains an uproarious parody of French oceanographer Jacques Cousteau,
along with several other masterpieces of the absurd.
Boyle is not for everyone, but if you enjoyed Ape Lady, we highly
recommend this collection of stories.
Nice to see you here! :)
Trying to assemble a reading list for a future essay. I have three obvious
picks down already -- Carver, Beattie, and Peter Taylor -- but I'm curious
what else springs up.
"Vlorbik" <vlo...@aol.com> wrote in message
Tobias Wolff _In the Garden of the North American Martyrs_ , especially the
story about the hunters.
Lydia Davis _Break It Down_
I can recommend an excellent anthology (which I've been working my way
through in small, carefully chewed bites for several months): "The
Scribner Anthology of Contemporary Short Fiction: Fifty North American
Stories since 1970," edited by Lex Williford & Michael Martone
(Scribner, 1999). Fifty authors, one story each, and (so far) they're
all at least very good. . . .
Michael K. Smith Smith Editorial Services
Editor, Louisiana Genealogical Register
work = http://smith_editorial.tripod.com/ses.html
play = http://book-smith.tripod.com/booksmith.html
~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~
THESAURUS (n.): An ancient reptile with
an excellent vocabulary.
"doug bassett" <dougb...@conectiv.net> wrote in message
"Harry C." <har...@nono.com> wrote in message
I wouldn't say that he is "the best", but I have the impression that
André Dubus (sr., not jr.) is far less well known than he deserves to
be. At least I don't see him mentioned or anthologized very often, but
when I first read some of his stories last year I was very impressed.
But maybe his output is rather uneven, and my positive impression is
partly due to the fact that the first two books by him that I read were
compilations of the best stories culled from his other collections:
_Voices from the Moon_ and _Finding A Girl in America_.
When I tried to obtain more titles and read one or two of the
collections that some of the stories in these books originally appeared
in, I found that he'd also written some thoroughly boring fiction. Most
excruciating of all I found a couple of stories in _The Last Worthless
Evening_ that dealt in torturing detail with his feelings of guilt over
the racial discrimination exercised by other whites in the 60s. These
stories - to me - seemed nothing if not very dated.
Also, his latest collection (_Dancing after Dark_ I think it was called)
didn't quite reach the level of the best of the stories that I read.
But all of the stories in the two collections that I mentioned first are
superb. And I feel sure there must be some gems to be discovered in his
other collections too. Try him sometime.
Then there's Alice Munro, who is fairly well known by now, I think.
(Incidentally, Dubus mentions her in one of the stories in his latest
collection.) Pick any one of her collections of stories -- IIRC they're
all superb. There's no such thing as "the best writer of &c" of course,
but if there were, she'd be one of the prime contenders for the title.
To conclude with the short story writer that I've read most recently: so
far I've only finished the first two stories in Alistair MacLeod's _The
Lost Salt Gift of Blood_ -- but I liked those a lot, and am looking
forward to the rest of the collection. This collection and the only
other collection MacLeod has so far published have now been reissued in
one volume as _Islands_, by the way. The _New York Times_ recently
carried a favourable review on it; it's probably still online.
The NYT was also fairly enthusiastic about MacLeod's only novel to date,
_No Great Mischief_. I got sidetracked from his stories by that novel,
and I now regret it. His narrative - as much as there was of it -
totally failed to hold my attention, and the whole Scottish clan
cohesiveness thing only ended up irritating me rather than providing a
nice touch of couleur locale.
I suspect that MacLeod's talent is ideally shaped for the medium of the
short story, not for that of the novel.
But let me first finish that collection -- maybe the first two stories
will turn out to be the only ones in it that I like.
Afterthought: I've plugged him here before, and I'll plug him again.
J.F. Powers wrote three collections of stories with a narrow range of
subject, but superb in their sort. Werry werry funny.
operamail.com is where it's really @
Well, I have to say that I'm not much interested in any
short story contest where R.A. Lafferty and Cordwainer Smith
are excluded a priori.
Not to mention things like, say, the _Sabres in the Sand_
collection by Geoffrey Household.
(You realize that *most* short fiction published since 1950
has appeared under a "genre" label, notably science
fiction/fantasy? That doesn't give you pause?)
But sticking strictly to your (in my opinion, inane and
arbitrary) definition of what's "literary":
> >Please, no genre fiction -- I have absolutely nothing against genre
> >but in this context I'm interested in the more "literary" end of things.
> Well, I have to say that I'm not much interested in any
> short story contest where R.A. Lafferty and Cordwainer Smith
> are excluded a priori.
It's hardly a contest -- and if the criteria doesn't interest you, fine.
Spare me your two cents, though, okay? I have reasons for drawing the lines
where I'm drawing them.
> (You realize that *most* short fiction published since 1950
> has appeared under a "genre" label, notably science
> fiction/fantasy? That doesn't give you pause?)
Yes, of course I know this. No, it doesn't give me pause, for the project is
an essay on the "literary" side of the American short story since 1950. I'm
trying to assemble a reading list. Kindly spare me your preaching.
> But sticking strictly to your (in my opinion, inane and
> arbitrary) definition of what's "literary":
> Borges, _Ficciones_.
Well, considering Borges is not an *American* short story writer, this
suggestion is worthless to me, Mr. Brenner. In the future, kindly read all
the fine print before sounding off like a pompous buffoon.
doug bassett <dougb...@conectiv.net> wrote:
>Yes, of course I know this. No, it doesn't give me pause, for the project is
>an essay on the "literary" side of the American short story since 1950. I'm
>trying to assemble a reading list. Kindly spare me your preaching.
How about Ray Bradbury? Harlan Ellison has written some pretty good (and
pretty literary) short stories.
Literary or literature includes many genres: historical, romance, mystery,
science fiction, fantasy, etc. For instance, Orwell's "1984" and "Animal
Farm" are both examples of literary works - they can also be described
as science fiction and fantasy (respectively). The latter work can also
be described as an allegory. Genre is more about the setting of the
story rather than a reflection of its literary merit. If you restrict
genre you'll miss out on quite a lot of good stuff.
An essay on the American short story that ignores the science fiction
and pulp magazines ignores a great deal of the development of the modern
American short story. They not only encouraged the format they also
inspired many of today's best writers.
Joan Shields jshi...@uci.edu http://www.ags.uci.edu/~jshields
University of California - Irvine School of Social Ecology
Department of Environmental Analysis and Design
I do not purchase services or products from unsolicited e-mail advertisements.
Indeed, as have Ursula K. LeGuin, Phillip Dick, Robert Aickman, and Cornell
Woorlrich, to name just a few off the top of my head. I have nothing against
genre fiction, I'm just not interested in it for this project.
Genre is more about the setting of the
> story rather than a reflection of its literary merit. If you restrict
> genre you'll miss out on quite a lot of good stuff.
Nobody's arguing this, Ms. Shields (although I would say genre means more
than simply "setting", unless by "setting" you mean the complex interlacing
of conventions that distinguish, say, a hardboiled mystery from a classic
English mystery). But my essay concerns those writers who are trying to
write, for lack of a better term, "serious" fiction. I want to survey how
the short story developed in that context. Note that I put "literary" in
quotes in my original post -- I'm using it only as a general descriptive
term -- and most people here seem to have understood what I meant.
> An essay on the American short story that ignores the science fiction
> and pulp magazines ignores a great deal of the development of the modern
> American short story. They not only encouraged the format they also
> inspired many of today's best writers.
Maybe someday I'll write an essay in the crossover between genre writers and
"literary" writers -- but I'm not doing that now. Right now I only want to
examine one side of the stream. If that strikes you as ill-informed or a
mistake that's fine, but please allow me to pursue my own interests my own
Joan Shields <jshi...@rigel.oac.uci.edu> wrote in message
>> How about Ray Bradbury? Harlan Ellison has written some pretty good (and
>> pretty literary) short stories.
>Indeed, as have Ursula K. LeGuin, Phillip Dick, Robert Aickman, and Cornell
>Woorlrich, to name just a few off the top of my head. I have nothing against
>genre fiction, I'm just not interested in it for this project.
But you are using genre fiction - it's just that you are rating genre,
including certain genre and ignoring others.
>Genre is more about the setting of the
>> story rather than a reflection of its literary merit. If you restrict
>> genre you'll miss out on quite a lot of good stuff.
>Nobody's arguing this, Ms. Shields (although I would say genre means more
>than simply "setting", unless by "setting" you mean the complex interlacing
>of conventions that distinguish, say, a hardboiled mystery from a classic
Actually, mystery is the genre and hard-boiled versus English cozy are
sub-genres. There are, of course, stories that combine sub-genres and
>But my essay concerns those writers who are trying to
>write, for lack of a better term, "serious" fiction. I want to survey how
>the short story developed in that context. Note that I put "literary" in
>quotes in my original post -- I'm using it only as a general descriptive
>term -- and most people here seem to have understood what I meant.
Can you tell me how Ray Bradbury and Harlan Ellison are not writing
'serious' fiction? Is it the quality of the writing or the setting/genre
that removes them from being serious? IMO, literaty (aka: serious) is
a term that can be applied to a work apart from the genre. I think
that's a reasonable definition.
>> An essay on the American short story that ignores the science fiction
>> and pulp magazines ignores a great deal of the development of the modern
>> American short story. They not only encouraged the format they also
>> inspired many of today's best writers.
>Maybe someday I'll write an essay in the crossover between genre writers and
>"literary" writers -- but I'm not doing that now.
I think you're missing an important point - all short stories, all works
of writing are of one genre or another. "The Iliad" and "Beowolfe" are
adventure/action genre works - however, they are also considered literature
because of their literary merit and historical importance. "Morte d'Arthur"
can be classified as fantasy/myth - again, it's also considered literature.
Genre is simply a classification - it does not indicate merit or lack of
>Right now I only want to
>examine one side of the stream. If that strikes you as ill-informed or a
>mistake that's fine, but please allow me to pursue my own interests my own
In that you are attempting to write an essay about the development of the
American short story in the last 50 years - I would think that you might
welcome discussion about the subject. If all you wanted were a few titles,
I suppose you have all you want at this point. However, surely you must
have realized that the arbitrary restrictions you put on 'serious literary'
short stories were bound to be disagreed with?
Anyway, I'm sorry you are not interested in pursuing a discussion along
these lines. Perhaps someone else is?