A new dawn for short stories

I usually limit my homepage to information about my own activities but a news from last week that may have an impact for all writers who – like me – see their literary home primarily in short fiction deserves a comment. It may be that the Nobel Prize in Literature for the Canadian writer Alice Munro – regarded by many as the greatest living short story writer (her only serious contender of that title is perhaps the Irish author William Trevor) – will encourage new readers to try out short stories and publishers to publish and translate more story collections. Among the many comments praising the Nobel jury for its this time undisputed choice I read some speculations that the growing sales of ebook readers and the increased number of online magazines and ebook distribution channels may make the compact reading experience of stories and novellas more accessible and convenient for many readers.

I have to admit that so far I’m not the greatest fan of Alice Munro. She seems to me characteristic of a certain trend in North American short fiction that is marked by a retreat into the private and personal. I prefer the way my greatest short fiction idol of all time, Somerset Maugham, managed to portrait his characters on a few pages in a way that they are exemplary of a whole epoch and society. Apart from that I am, as a reader and writer, generally more on the side of the fabulist school of story writing, all those writers that don’t take day-to-day reality for granted but attack it, counteract it, crack it open. It can’t be denied, however, what an impressive, almost impossible achievement it is for a writer today to gain, as Alice Munro did, an international reputation almost solely based on short fiction. After the dead of US American writer Andre Dubus in 1999 Alice Munro may well be the last one who managed this to such a degree of widespread recognition. It remains to be seen if the praise piled on her masterly subdued work will revive interest into the short story as a full-fledged art form, even in what later generations may call the age of the novel.