Mitchell, Lee Clark
Oxford University Press, USA
studies the contemporary short story and focuses on four recent collections: Alice Munro's Dear Life
(2012); Andre Dubus's Dancing After Hours
(1996); Joy Williams's The Visiting Privilege
(2015); and Lydia Davis's Can't and Won't
(2014). Each publication has appeared near the conclusion of a career devoted all but exclusively to short stories, with each defining a 'late style' honed over a lifetime. As well, each diverges from others in ways that have profoundly shaped our generic conceptions, and collectively they represent the four most innovative practitioners of the past half-century (with the arguable exception of Raymond Carver).
Yet in an era when writing programs, The New Yorker
, and distinguished journals all promulgate the short story, it remains relatively under-examined as a major literary form. We continue to argue about what a story inherently is, ignoring how differences among practitioners enliven the field. Dubus, Munro, Williams, and Davis each defy critical efforts to identify the story form's presumed constitution, marked by a supposedly special shape or requisite length or distinct narrative trajectory. And the very contrast among their efforts reveals the expansiveness of the genre, though few have taken such a cross-glancing interpretive approach. This volume opens up discussion, shifting from close analysis into larger speculation about possibilities established by the most innovative writers in their later work.