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

To read about movies and TV shows I'm watching, visit my other blog: Elliot's Watching

Thursday, July 16, 2015

The arc of the story and the story of a life: two examples in short fiction

Have liked David Gates's stories since reading his previous collection many years ago (and have liked his journalism, too) so I was glad to see that he has a new collection and glad to read his story A Hand Will Reach Down to Guide Me (?) in the Best American Stories 2014 collected edited by Jennifer Egan. Once again this story fits in well with the others (so far) in the anthology, almost all of which are in the realist-naturalist tradition - and I can see why Egan was drawn to this as well based on their common interest in fiction about the music industry. I have to say that Gates's depiction rings more true that Egan's - it seems to be something he's lived with and not researched. The story is in a close first-person narration - I know it's not memoir but the narrator feels as close to the author's confidential voice as one can get - who tells of a NY musician he'd met in youth how their lives entwined over many years - it's one of those rare stories that has an arc, just as life has an arc, and that spans almost the whole course of a lifetime. Interestingly, another such story, in a different mode, is the next the collection, Lauren Groff's The imagined corners of the round world (a quote from Donne; she includes the whole sonnet in the story), this one in remote 3rd person, looking at the entire life of a young many raised in the Florida swamps by a herpatologist father, a nasty man, and a remote mother - we see in outline how the boy matures, breaks free from his difficult parents, reconciles to a degree, and returns to his home town - now radically changed (by the encroaching university) and much more valuable, to live out his life. This seems in a way as if it should, or could, become a novel - but then again why should it? I can remember writing a story some years ago that I thought was OK (nobody else did, it was never published) and my then-writers' group encouraged me to develop it into a novel - at which point I thought I could spend four years doing that only to realize that it should be stripped down to a story. Omit needless words - the basic premise of the Strunk-White Elements of Style, my Bible And the same goes for every facet of writing: if you can tell it as a story, the rest is just padding and vamping for time (and money).

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