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Thursday, February 23, 2012

PEN/Faulker Award finalists

The finalists for the PEN/Faulkner Award for fiction:

Russell Banks, Lost Memory of Skin
Don DeLillo, The Angel Esmeralda: Nine Stories
Anita Desai, The Artist of Disappearance
Steven Millhauser, We Others: New and Selected Stories
Julie Otsuka, The Buddha in the Attic

It is very interesting that there are two short story collections included in this shortlist.  I have always loved the short story form.  Not only is it convenient -- as a friend once said, you can read one while you are waiting for the potatoes to boil -- but it is compact and efficient.  The author faces a taxing task, as at least one good character has to be drawn (two is better), the setting sketched out vividly, background to the situation made clear, and, on top of all that, a story told, with a snappy or thought-provoking conclusion.  Well done, it is immensely satisfying.

This was the way I first explored mystery and science fiction, and discovered many great writers.  But yes -- they were read as pulp fiction (if you can consider the much mourned Argosy as a pulp magazine), and therefore low on the pecking order.  It was a lucky author or editor who was able to publish a hardback collection.  In fact, back in the eighties, a prominent publisher told me that publishing a book like that had to be a labor of love, as "short story collections don't sell."  That short story magazines have struggled over the following years, with many disappearing from the scene, has seemed to prove his point.

Now, I feel as if this has changed, quite suddenly and dramatically.  Short stories and short story collections have become respectable. Indeed, the UK Book Trust has a page dedicated to the short story, calling it "one of the most exciting and important literary forms." 

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