Friday, January 14, 2011

Friday Fiction: Contemporary Short Story Authors

--by Hanje Richards

What exactly is a short story? Is it defined by content or length, or is it a genre unto itself? I have gleaned the following information from Wikipedia to start off this discussion of Short Stories.

“A short story is a work of fiction that is usually written in prose, often in narrative format. This format tends to be more pointed than longer works of fiction, such as novellas and novels. Short story definitions based upon length differ somewhat even among professional writers, due somewhat in part to the fragmentation of the medium into genres. Since the short story format includes a wide range of genres and styles, the actual length is determined by the individual author's preference (or the story's actual needs in terms of creative trajectory or story arc) and the submission guidelines relevant to the story's actual market. Guidelines vary greatly among publishers.

“Many short story writers define their work through a combination of creative, personal expression and artistic integrity. As a result, many attempt to resist categorization by genre as well as definition by numbers, finding such approaches limiting and counter-intuitive to artistic form and reasoning. As a result, definitions of the short story based upon length splinter even more when the writing process is taken into consideration.

“Short stories tend to be less complex than novels. Usually a short story focuses on one incident, has a single plot, a single setting, a small number of characters, and covers a short period of time. A classic definition of a short story is that one should be able to read it in one sitting. Other definitions place the maximum word count at anywhere from 7,000 to 9,000 words.”

Today’s post focuses on a few contemporary short story authors and some of their collections held at The Copper Queen Library.

Margaret Eleanor Atwood (born November 18, 1939) is a Canadian poet, novelist, literary critic, essayist, and environmental activist.

Bluebeard’s Egg - By turns humorous and warm, stark and frightening, this collection glows with childhood memories, the reality of parents growing old, and the casual cruelty men and women inflict on each other. Here is the familiar outer world of family summers at remote lakes, winters of political activism, and seasons of exotic friends, mundane lives, and unexpected loves. But here, too, is the inner world of hidden places and all that emerges from them — the intimately personal, the fantastic, the shockingly real… whether it's what lives in a mysterious locked room or the secret feelings we all conceal.
Moral Disorder - A collection of short stories that follow the life of a single character, seen as a girl growing up the 1930s, a young woman in the ‘50s and ‘60s, and, in the present day, half of a couple, no longer young. Each story focuses on the ways relationships transform a character’s life: a woman’s complex love for a married man, the grief upon the death of parents and the joy with the birth of children, the realization of what growing old with someone you love really means.

The Tent - A collection of fictional pieces from one of the world’s most acclaimed and incisive authors. Here, Atwood pushes form once again, with meditations on warlords, pet heaven, and aging homemakers. She gives a sly pep talk to the ambitious young; writes about the disconcerting experience of looking at old photos of ourselves; and examines the boons and banes of orphanhood. Accompanied by her own playful illustrations, Atwood’s droll humor and keen insight make each piece full of clarity and grace.

Wilderness Tips - In each of these tales, Atwood deftly illuminates the single instant that shapes a whole life: in a few brief pages, we watch as characters progress from the vulnerabilities of adolescence through the passions of youth into the precarious complexities of middle age. By superimposing the past on the present, Atwood paints interior landscapes shaped by time, regret, and life’s lost chances, endowing even the banal with a sense of mystery.

T. C. Boyle (born Thomas John Boyle, also known as Tom Coraghessan Boyle, born on December 2, 1948) is an American novelist and short story writer. Since the mid 1970s, he has published twelve novels and more than 100 short stories.

Collected Stories of T. C. Boyle – This is a collection of stories by T.C. Boyle up to publication date in 1993.

Tooth and Claw - Among the fourteen tales in this collection are the comic yet lyrical title story, in which a young man wins a vicious African cat in a bar bet; “Dogology,” about a suburban woman losing her identity to a pack of strays; and “The Kind Assassin,” which explores the consequences of a radio shock jock’s quest to set a world record for sleeplessness. These stories are muscular and provocative, blurring the boundaries between humans and nature, the funny and the shocking. .
Wild Child and Other Stories - The fourteen stories gathered here display both Boyle's astonishing range and the strength of his imagination. Nature is the dominant player in many of these stories, whether in the form of the catastrophic mudslide that allows a cynic to reclaim his own humanity (“La Conchita”) or the wind-driven fires that howl through a high California canyon (“Ash Monday”). Other tales range from the drama of a man who spins Homeric lies in order to stop going to work to that of a young woman who must babysit for a $250,000 cloned Afghan to the sad comedy of a child born to Mexican street vendors who is unable to feel pain.

Without A Hero - Each of these fifteen stories is sharply done, brightly worded, and edged with black humor. The title story has the book's most memorable character, a Russian immigrant woman who takes advantage of the wimpy California narrator, indulges in shopper's paradise and long-distance calls but, ultimately, yearns for a lover “to die for.” “Filthy with Things” tells of a wife and her husband who cannot move about their house because it's so full of collectibles — so much so that a professional organizer, or “specialist in aggregation disorders” — must be called in to straighten out the impossibly crammed house, porch, and lawn. “Big Game” features a fake African hunting ground located outside Bakersfield, California, where the stupidly wealthy can shoot zebras and lions. In “Carnal Knowledge,” the foolish narrator is suckered by a beautiful eco-terrorist into liberating a turkey farm just before Thanksgiving. “Acts of God” depicts an aged, fairly recently married, and put-upon retiree whose harridan wife gets hit by a well-deserved tropical hurricane.
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Bobbie Ann Mason (born May 1, 1940) is an American novelist, short story writer, essayist, and literary critic from Kentucky.

Love Life: Stories - A collection of short stories focusing on the everyday lives of ordinary Kentucky people - from factory hands to schoolteachers. Set in bars and shopping-malls, the stories capture the atmosphere of the small-town South and describe universal passions, disappointments and tragedies.

Shiloh and Other Stories - Mason introduces us to her Western Kentucky people and the lives they forge for themselves amid the ups and downs of contemporary American life, and she poignantly captures the growing pains of the New South in the lives of her characters as they come to terms with feminism, R-rated movies, and video games.
Joyce Carol Oates (born June 16, 1938) is an American author. Oates published her first book in 1963 and has since published over fifty novels, as well as many volumes of short stories, poetry, and nonfiction.

Assignation: Stories - In forty-four very short, very powerful stories, Joyce Carol Oates fashions brief, intensely compact dramas out of the unwieldy material of human experience. The stories in The Assignation are infused with a “radiant intensity,” wrote James Atlas in the New York Times Book Review, and they convey the depth and scope of a novel in a few charged pages. This collection is an electric display of the talents that make Oates one of our finest short story writers.

Dear Husband: Stories - Fourteen stories that examine the intimate lives of contemporary American families. In “Cutty Sark” and “Landfill,” the bond between adolescent son and mother reverberates with the force of an unspoken passion, bringing unexpected consequences for the son. In “A Princeton Idyll,” a woman is forced to realize, decades later, her childhood role in the destruction of a famous, beloved grandfather's life. In “Magda Maria,” a man tries to break free of the enthralling and dangerous erotic obsession of his life. In the gripping title story, Oates boldly reimagines the true-crime story of Andrea Yates, the Texas mother who drowned her children in 2001. Several stories — “Suicide by Fitness Center,” “The Glazers,” and “Dear Joyce Carol” — take a less tragic turn, exploring with mordant humor the shadowy interstices between self-awareness and delusion.

Faithless: Tales of Transgression - In this collection of twenty-one unforgettable stories, Oates explores the mysterious private lives of men and women with vivid, unsparing precision and sympathy. By turns interlocutor and interpreter, magician and realist, she dissects the psyches of ordinary people and their potential for good and evil with chilling understatement and lasting power.

Hungry Ghosts: Seven Allusive Comedies - Seven related short stories about academia, and particularly English departments.

I Am No One You Know: Stories - Nineteen startling stories that bear witness to the remarkably varied lives of Americans of our time. In “Fire,” a troubled young wife discovers a rare, radiant happiness in an adulterous relationship. In “Curly Red,” a girl makes a decision to reveal a family secret and changes her life irrevocably. In “The Girl with the Blackened Eye,” a girl pushed to an even greater extreme of courage and desperation manages to survive her abduction by a serial killer. And in “Three Girls,” two adventuresome NYU undergraduates seal their secret love by following, and protecting, Marilyn Monroe in disguise at Strand Used Books on a snowy evening in 1956.

Last Days - The first half of the book, “Last Days,” features typical Oatsean subject matter, whereas the second part, “Our Wall,” collects stories about eastern Europe, the Berlin Wall, the effects of the Cold War on the minds of everyday people and also includes a marginally fictionalized version of Oates' real-life 1980 pilgrimage to Communist-ruled Poland, a nation her mother's ancestors once left behind on their journey to America.

Sentimental Education - Six powerful stories on love, violence, obsession, and paranoia.

Sourland: Stories - From a desperate man who dons a jack-o’-lantern head as a prelude to a most curious sort of courtship to a “story of a stabbing” many times recounted in the life of a lonely girl; from a beguiling young woman librarian whose amputee state attracts a married man and father to a girl hopelessly in love with her renegade, incarcerated cousin; from a professor’s wife who finds herself tragically isolated at a party in her own house to the concluding title story of an unexpectedly redemptive love rooted in radical aloneness and isolation, each story resonates with Oates’ fascination for the unpredictable amid the prosaic — the co-mingling of sexual love and violence, the tumult of family life — and shines with her predilection for dark humor and her gift for voice.

Wheel of Love and Other Stories - Contains what are arguably three of her greatest stories: “In the Region of Ice,” “How I Contemplated the World from the Detroit House of Corrections and Began My Life Over Again,” and “Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been?”

Wild Nights! Stories About the Last Days of Poe, Dickinson, Twain, James, and Hemingway - Oates evokes each of these American literary icons poignantly and audaciously, reinventing the climactic events of their lives. In subtly nuanced language suggestive of each of these writers, Oates explores the mysterious regions of the unknowable self that is “genius.”