Reviewer James Broderick, Ph.D: James is an associate professor of English and journalism at New Jersey City University. A former newspaper reporter and editor, he is the author of six non-fiction books, and the novel Stalked. His latest book is Greatness Thrust Upon Them, a collection of interviews with Shakespearean actors across America. Follow Here To Listen To An Interview With James Broderick.
Author: Compiled by Cool Waters Media
Author: Compiled by Cool Waters Media
There’s a crisis happening in contemporary short fiction and no one is certain who is more to blame: writers or readers.
The crisis is simply that not many people are reading short fiction. That is, not many publishers are paying for short fiction because the average reader seems increasingly uninterested in the genre. In truth, most of the reading of short fiction that’s going on is taking place among an insular, mostly web-based group of writers, mostly young, mostly university trained, whose work is mostly focused on themselves. Short fiction is more and more beginning to resemble an amalgam of memoir and confessional poetry, taking as its subject matter the interior life of its practitioners. Gone – long gone, it seems – are the days when a short story master like Hemingway or Katherine Anne Porter would write a story about an odd instance in a foreign locale about people one might not usually meet in the course of one’s daily life. Nowadays most short fiction seems to be written about some existential crisis faced by a disaffected poetic soul who can’t seem to find love or the will to quit smoking. The snow of Kilimanjaro has been replaced by the fog of modern ennui.
That’s a shame, because the short story still has something to say about the experience of living. Unfortunately, so many budding short story writers seem to have doubled-down on the idea of going small that the fiction they produce seems almost exclusively about life as THEY experience it (Note to short story writers: please ignore that creatively destructive bromide “Write what you know” and starting using your IMAGINATION.)
It’s unfair to lump all short fiction writers in the same camp. There is still some dynamic and challenging work being done in the genre, some gems to be found in the compost heap of recycled suburban angst. Examples of both can be unearthed in A Torn Page, an anthology of short fiction brought out by Cool Waters media.
Unfortunately, the dominant mode of A Torn page is solipsism, with only a handful of the more than 20 stories offering a genuinely fresh look at our world, with unpredictable characters doing things that a reader would actually care about. Far too many of the stories read like exercises in a creative writing class: way too “talky,” with little plot development, almost no surprises (whatever happened to upending readers’ expectations?), and wafer-thin characters who don’t resonate as real.
There are happy exceptions, with stories like “Bridge Partners” by Joe Abbott, with its dark, gritty and spare language pitched just right for a group of derelicts who value life just slightly more than they do that day’s lunch, or the superb standout “Clarinet,” by Kenneth Weene, which captures the lacunae of childhood exactly in a truly heartfelt, mysterious tale.
Overall, however, if one is looking for evidence that short fiction is alive and well – and has something to say about the human condition – my advice is to look elsewhere. And to those who wish to make their mark in this field, my advice is to pick up your pens and get on a plane and go somewhere, anywhere, where the concerns of your monochrome daily life will be supplanted by the multi-colored pageant of other, fresher worlds.
Follow Here To Purchase A Torn Page