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A daily record of what I'm thinking about what I'm reading

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Wednesday, July 15, 2015

A unique literary artifact: Story written on phone

I wouldn't have known except from the author's note in Best American Short Stories 2014 that Joshua Ferris wrote his story The Breeze on his phone - but it does make sense. If you're interested in how the medium shapes the message in the short story (or in fiction - e.g., how the introduction of the typewriter changed the style of Twain, and of James), this is a good case study. The story begins with a gen-y couple living in Brooklyn trying to decide what to do on a beautiful spring evening. The story proceeded as a series of vignettes, each a few paragraphs, exploring alternate versions of what they do (and don't do): a picnic in Central Park, stuck in subway on way to Central Park and hence no picnic, drinks in a 34th-floor bar and no dinner, dinner in a little Italian place, walking out of Italian place in a huff w/ no dinner, and so forth. In other words, it feels like a series of false starts or tentative starts, just as the characters are deciding about the (trivial) options in their lives (while ignoring the more serious issues in their marriage, the real decisions), the author is exploring his material w/out really bringing it together into a whole. The form is of course also a metaphor for the fragmented nature of contemporary urban life in the age of the smart phone and Google, just as the characters represent the spoiled and privileged qualities of the age: seemingly well to do, carefree, with plenty of options, plenty of time on their hands, no pressures except the decision as to where to get a drink or a dinner - and yet beneath that placid surface there lies a sea of anxiety and displeasure: sexual longings, marital animosity, anxiety about whether to have children. I wouldn't expect too many others to try to write an ambitious story on a phone, but this one stands as a perhaps unique artifact of the age - and includes a pretty good descriptive passage about crossing the Brooklyn Bridge. (Can there possibly be an anthology of contemporary fiction w/out at least one story set in Brooklyn? I doubt it.)

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