Monday, January 18, 2016

In Short

Charles Baxter, New York Review of Books:
O’Connor’s central idea is that the short story is a more private art than that of the novel. And its dramatis personae are of a different order: more solitary, isolated, and uncommunicative. Going out on one of several limbs, O’Connor claims that we do not identify with most short-story characters. Instead, we find in stories “a submerged population group” made up of lonely outcasts, “outlawed figures wandering about the fringes of society, superimposed sometimes on symbolic figures whom they caricature and echo….” He is thinking here of Gogol’s “The Overcoat” and its central character, Akaky Akakievich, and Akaky’s distant, echoing similarity to Christ:
What Gogol has done so boldly and brilliantly is to take the mock-heroic character, the absurd little copying clerk, and impose his image over that of the crucified Jesus, so that even while we laugh we are filled with horror at the resemblance.
Allied to romance rather than realism, the short-story form, O’Connor suggests, does not provide the kind of necessary space for a writer to build up a worthy and heroic individual as novels do. Remembering an author’s stories, we therefore recall a population group and not an individual. As a consequence, what we encounter in short stories are these exemplars of various subcultures, “remote from the community—romantic, individualistic, and intransigent,” a class of people who were largely invisible to us before our reading. Accordingly, the central feeling of short stories, O’Connor asserts, is that of the loneliness associated with that particular group.


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