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The Art of Short Stories February 11, 2010

Posted by lycan librarian in Uncategorized.

     “I’m a failed poet. Maybe every novelist wants to write poetry first, finds he can’t and then tries the short story which is the most demanding form after poetry. And failing at that, only then does he take up novel writing.”
                   William Faulkner

     I read this Faulkner quote in high school, and never forgot it, so I must have always instinctively known that I would become a novelist.  I have written only a few successful poems, and my short stories somehow grow and grow until they become novels. Perhaps that is why I am so fond of well crafted short stories, an art form in which the greatest examples portray lives in few words yet with great force. Also, it was a short story, Shirley Jackson’s THE LOTTERY, which captured my heart in seventh grade and led me to the decision that I simply must learn how to write well, and that I wanted to do it for a living. (If you have never read Jackson’s masterpiece, do so immediately!)
     Certain writers, of course, could pen advertising jingles and elicit heart-felt tears from their readers, and Joyce Carol Oates, one of my favorite writers, is certainly one of them. She whittles the walkway artfully and carefully so that her readers can step into the shoes of her characters and become those parents, murderers, rapists, victims, confused children and self-loathing teenagers who muddle their ways through the scripts of her work. Her stories, long or short, are dark, and they show us parts of ourselves that any sane person would choose to deny even while realizing she has described us perfectly. THE MUSEUM OF DR. MOSES is a short story  collection of hers that I find particularly compelling. These dark, gothic tales about damaged people and unhinged minds are written with a beauty and grace only a master of the literary arts, such as Oates, can produce.

      Oates is an extremely prolific writer and has a total of thirty-two short story collections (that’s not counting her novels that number over fifty and her eleven non-fiction works, plus essays, drama, poetry and young adult selections!) You can find a full list of her work at http://jco.usfca.edu. Another of her short story collections I read, enjoyed, and never forgot is THE FEMALE OF THE SPECIES: TALES OF MYSTERY AND SUSPENSE. In it, all her ‘villains’ are women, and the reader roots enthusiastically for each and every one of them. An additional treat for the reader is the cover of this book — Caravaggio’s JUDITH BEHEADING HOLOFERNES.

     There are great many short story anthologies that have been unearthed from the shelves of the Moonlit Library, and the Lycan Librarian would like to discuss at least a few more of them, so be sure to check back often as the next few posts will cover other collections, some old, and some quite new.



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