Monday, June 7, 2010

On excerpting novels to make short fiction

I ought to have remembered my previous theorizing about the difficulty -- and often unsuitability -- of excerpting novels to produce something that can pass as a short story. I worked through this just about a year ago when Lorrie Moore had what I thought was a very flat "story" in The New Yorker, only to discover later that it was an excerpt of her forthcoming novel in which context it made a lot more sense.

If I had been thinking of that I might have been more generous or patient with Jeffrey Euginides' recent work in the The New Yorker. He's one of my favorites. Or his second novel Middlesex is, anyway. He's not exactly the most prolific writer, and I eagerly await his next novel. In the meantime, he had a piece of short fiction in The New Yorker recently, which I read and was so disappointed by. That's it? What a lame ending.

It turns out I was mistakenly assuming it was a short story (I wish The New Yorker would account for this and just put add the words "excerpt from a novel in progress" at the start. Because they feel the work should stand on its own? It's the 21st century. People expect a little context.) The novel is apparently forthcoming. Eugenides discusses it and film adaptation and other stuff on The New Yorker book blog.

So the lame ending is presumably the end of a chapter and makes more sense read that way. I wonder if it's even the end of an episode in a longer chapter. In any case, I take it as further support for my theory. Maybe this will be an annual event -- a weirdly flat short "fiction" in The New Yorker in June and a long-awaited novel later in the summer. Maybe we can predict who it will be in 2011. Who else has been missing from the scene for several years? Maybe it will be Harper Lee.

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