If Kelly Link isn't the best short story writer in the U.S., then she's the equal of whoever is. I first came to this conclusion a couple of years ago when I read her story "Lull" in Conjunctions: 39, and I am absolutely certain of it now that I have read "Stone Animals" in Conjunctions: 43. (Of course, I've also read her collection Stranger Things Happen, but, much as I admire it, nothing in that book is as breathtaking as the stories she has written since it appeared, particularly the two Conjunctions stories.)
"Stone Animals" both employs and parodies the basic elements of suburban psychological realism, the sort of scaffolding John Cheever and so many other writers hung their words and laundry on: a family buying a house and moving into it, a father commuting to a desultory job in the city, a pregnant wife who is uncertain about her marriage, suspicions and allegations of adultery, existentially anxious children, a controlling boss, str…
I've intended to write about Nadine Gordimer's very short story "Loot" for years, ever since I first read it in The New Yorker, and for some reason I actually thought I had written a post here about it. I recommended the story to a friend a few days ago and intended to include a link to my post about the story when, after a bit of searching, I realized I'd never written the post. Now I will fix that mistake.
From the first sentence, "Loot" is a story about time and history, about legends and imagination. "Once upon our time," it tells us, there was a Great Event -- the greatest earthquake every recorded, the greatest of all measured "apocalyptic warnings". Not only is it a Great Event (indeed, the Greatest of such events), but it is ours: we possess it.
The second paragraph details the effects of this greatest event of ours. Most giant earthquakes at sea produce floods and tsunamis, but not ours -- our special earthquake does ex…
The first rejection letter I ever got was from Gardner Dozois. I was in 6th grade and had just learned about submitting stories to magazines; I had also just started reading my mother's boss's copies of Isaac Asimov's Science Fiction Magazine, which Dozois had recently become editor of. I don't remember anything about the story I submitted, but I'm sure it was awful. I don't think I expected it to be accepted, because what I most remember is how excited I was to get a letter from the editor. My parents were kind and didn't tell me it was a form letter, nor that the signature was printed onto it, not written by the editor himself. I brought it to school to show my teacher. She, too, very kindly did not tell me that thousands of people likely got just this same letter. (After a few more submissions, I figured it out.)
Dozois also edited what may be the single most important anthology in my life: The Year's Best Science Fiction, Third Annual Collection, w…
In writing about Brian Evenson's book about Raymond Carver, I noted that both Evenson and I first read Carver right around the time we first read Kafka and Beckett, and we did so without knowledge of the contemporary American fiction writers he's often set alongside (e.g. Ann Beattie, Tobias Wolff, etc.). Later, I gained that context and, consequently, the context I'd originally brought faded, which is one reason why Brian's book so effectively brought Carver back to me — which is to say, it brought a way of reading Carver back to me. I don't mind the American writers Carver typically gets grouped with, but I'd be lying if I said their work really excites me. Kafka and Beckett, on the other hand, are among a very small group of 20th century writers whose work I am in awe of, work that I feel utterly incapable of writing about analytically, work that I can only point to and say, "That. Whatever great literature is, it must surely be that."
I prefer, where truth is important, to write
—Virginia Woolf, The PargitersPreface
It seems my doctoral dissertation has hit the ProQuest dissertations databases, so now is perhaps a useful time to say a few words about it here. First, the details for finding it, since there doesn't seem to be an openly accessible link: The title is Lessoning Fiction: Modernist Crisis and the Pedagogy of Form, and it is Dissertation/thesis number 10786319 and ProQuest document ID 2056936547. (If you don't have access to any of those databases and would like a copy of the manuscript, feel free to email me and I will send you a PDF.)
Here's the abstract:
Writers committed to Modernist ideas of artistic autonomy may find that commitment challenged during times of socio-political crisis. This dissertation explores three writers who developed a similar literary strategy at such times: they pushed fictionality toward and beyond its limits, but ultimately preserved that fictionality, re…