I do not think it hyperbole to say that in 2018, the rapidly changing condition of American democracy has become an absorbing narrative of its own, one that features larger-than-life characters, nonstop conflict, breakneck pacing, and incredibly high stakes….
Fiction writers are now faced with the significant challenge of producing work that will sustain a reader’s attention amid this larger narrative. Roxane Gay is just the right guest editor for this moment. With her keen eye for tension, voice, and structure, as well as her deep understanding of the forces at work in our culture, she chose stories that reflect and refract our time, stories that exhibit mastery of pacing, surprise, and rich characterization. Here are stories that hold their own in this day and age, no small feat, and they do so with devastating realism, honesty, humor, and courage.~~ Heidi Pitlor, Foreword
I’m a little scared to read this volume.
But that’s ok: I trust litfic writers and the editors who, unlike the bozos running the country right now, love their readers, love their characters, care about something besides themselves, and write to show a way out, an alternative to whatever hellscape they’ve created. To show us it doesn’t have to be like this.
As I was typing this, a DFW quote from 1993 – oh, how innocent we were then about darkness! – twittered across my screen: “In dark times, the definition of good art would seem to be art that locates and applies CPR to those elements of what’s human and magical that still live and glow despite the times’ darkness. Really good fiction could have as dark a worldview as it wished, but it’d find a way both to depict this world and to illuminate the possibilities for being alive and human in it.” (How innocent will we seem 25 years from now?) Yeah, that’s what I was trying to say.
Whatever else this volume may turn out to be, it represents in some way the state of American short story writing. Roxane Gay’s Introduction appears in full at lithub, but here she capsulizes her intent:
When I am reading fiction, I am not always looking for the political. First and foremost, I am looking for a good story. I am looking for beautifully crafted sentences. I am looking for a refreshing voice or perspective. I am looking for interesting, complex characters that I find myself thinking about even when I am done with the story. I am looking for the artful way any given story is conveyed, but I also love when a story has a powerful message, when a story teaches me something about the world, when a story shows me just how much I don’t know and need to know about the lives of others.~~ Roxane Gay, Introduction
One aspect of this year’s read has me particularly eager to see what we have here: author (and my blogging buddy for several years) Jake Weber will be posting commentary on the stories on his blog, Workshop Heretic. He’ll be taking a more academic approach than I do, so for the students who find their way here when an English professor assigns them these stories as reading (yes, I see the spike in blog stats every September and January), his insights might be more fruitful. I know I hope to learn from him, since I still don’t know what a “good” story is.
But I do so love trying to figure it out.