Granted, Chekhov was writing from a different point in the historico-philosophical dialectic: a character could be called “Gurov’s wife,” “the bureaucrat,” or “the lackey,” and nobody would take it as a political statement. Would Pushkin have managed to inspire anybody at all had he written: “The night before Countess Maria Ivanovna left for Baden Baden, a drunken coachman crashed the Mirskys’ troika into the Pronskys’ dacha”? Pushkin knew that it is neither necessary nor desirable for the first sentence of a literary work to answer the “five w’s and one h.” Many of the Best Americans assume this perverse burden.The result is not just in medias res, but in-your-face in medias res, a maze of names, subordinate clauses, and minor collisions: “The morning after her granddaughter’s frantic phone call, Lorraine skipped her usual coffee session at the Limestone Diner and drove out to the accident scene instead”; “Graves had been sick for three days when, on the long, straight highway between Mazar and Kunduz, a dark blue truck coming toward them shed its rear wheel in a spray of orange-yellow sparks.” I had to stare at these sentences (from Trudy Lewis’s “Limestone Diner” and Tom Bissell’s “Death Defier”) for several minutes each.
One of the by-products of hyperspecificity is a preponderance of proper names.
For maximum specificity and minimum word count, names can’t be beat.
Then he broke through the formal “prison”: he made the gap the subject of a book.
Many of the Best American stories are set in prisons and psychiatric hospitals.
Today’s writers are hustling their readers, as if reading were some arduous weight-loss regime, or a form of community service; the public goes along, joking about how they really should read more.
Short Story Review Essay
Oprah uses identical rhetoric to advocate reading and fitness; Martha Nussbaum touts literature as an exercise regime for compassion.Missing persons, missed opportunities, very brief encounters, occuring in the margins of “Life Itself”: when the content is minimalist, then it makes sense to follow the short-fiction dictates: condense, delete, omit.Novels, like short stories, are often about absences; but they are based on information overload.The canonical example is , a work which, according to his prologue, Cervantes conceived in a prison cell in Seville.Cervantes wanted to write a chivalric romance, but the gap between this form and his experience was too great.In “Lady with Lapdog,” Gurov’s wife gets a few lines of dialogue, but no name.Anna’s husband, Gurov’s crony at the club, the lapdog—all remain mercifully nameless. of names so relentless as in the first sentences, which are specific to the point of arbitrariness; one expects to discover that they are all acrostics, or don’t contain a single letter e. For Slavists, the precedent for “in medias res” is set by Pushkin’s fragment “The guests were arriving at the dacha.” According to Tolstoy’s wife, this sentence inspired the opening of .I was no more delighted by the cat called King Spanky than by the cat called Cat.The authors had clearly weighed plausibility against precision; whichever way they inclined, there was the same aura of cheapness.A first line like “Lorraine skipped her usual coffee session at the Limestone Diner” is supposed to create the illusion that the reader already knows Lorraine, knows about her usual coffee, and, thus, cares why Lorraine has violated her routine.It’s like a confidence man who rushes up and claps you on the shoulder, trying to make you think you already know him.