The death of the (unorthodox) short story

Imagine that, sometime about 1950, it had been decided, collectively, informally, a little at a time, but with finality, to proscribe every kind of novel but the nurse romance from the canon of the future.

Not merely from the critical canon, but from the store racks and library shelves as well. Nobody could be paid, published, lionized, or cherished among the gods of literature for writing any kind of fiction other than nurse romances.

Now, because of my faith and pride in the diverse and rigorous brilliance of American writers of the last half century, I do believe that from this bizarre decision, in this theoretical America, a dozen or more authentic masterpieces would have emerged. Thomas Pynchon’s Blitz Nurse, for example, and Cynthia Ozick’s Ruth Puttermesser, R.N.

… Instead of “the novel” and “the nurse romance,” try this little thought experiment with “jazz” and “the bossanova,” or with “cinema” and “fish-out-of-water comedies.” Now go ahead and try it with “short fiction” and “the contemporary, quotidian, plotless, moment-of-truth revalatory story.”

Suddenly you find yourself sitting right back in your very own universe.

That is a favorite fiction writer, Michael Chabon, mourning the death of the horror, science fiction, or mystery short story in his collection of essays, Maps and Legends.

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