canadian ~ twenty-first century literature since 1999

Editorial: Fiction issue #21

by Michael Bryson

December 14, 2007

What makes a short story good? Audacity, Richard Ford said recently. He wrote:

More than even the sestina, short stories are the high-wire act of literature, the man keeping all those pretty plates up and spinning on skinny sticks.

He also wrote:

Being the slightly discomforting/intensely pleasing aesthetic agents they are, short stories are often good on the strength of sheer nerve.

I was thrilled to read this; it seemed correct. And it helped me answer something I perpetually struggle with ... to understand why I prefer one story over another. When I read dozens of short story submissions (for example) and then reject all but the four so-called "best," I wonder sometimes if the outcome isn't more determined by what I had for breakfast than what's in my noggin.

One must choose, so I choose. Someone else would choose differently, I acknowledge -- but that is no relief to writers who wonder: What's wrong with MY story?

And so I thought at first Ford's formula seemed about right. I choose the audacious stories. But then I saw the weakness of that word also. "Sheer nerve" is not enough. What is? I don't know.

Ford, ultimately, says he doesn't either. He seems to slyly suggest that the definition of a good story might be something like: "Real-life improbability rendered fictively plausible by authorial main force inside a small space of words." Yet he returns to the oxymoronic solid ground of the unknown:

Great stories are congeries of plan, vigour, will and application, but also of luck and error and intuition and even, God knows, sudden inspiration for all of which there is no key, and in the midst of which things often just happen - a fact that should make us like stories even better for their life-mimicking knack of seeming to come out of nowhere, thereby fortifying our faith in art and life's mystery.

Here's the four stories for TDR's December 2007 issue:

The Future of Anger
by Lynda Curnoe

Diplomatic Immunity
by Eleasha Chidley

The Damned
by Michel Basilières

Three Mile Island Hotdogs
by Lance Levens

I hope you find them mysterious and, yes, audacious.

Michael Bryson is the editor of TDR.   






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