“RISKY STORIES”. We have belonged to a short story group for over a dozen years. We take turns bringing in stories each week for discussion. We have all commented that it’s harder and harder to find good contemporary stories and that in particular it can be a long time between good New Yorker stories. I think I laughed at Jonathan Franzen’s concept of New Yorker fiction editors automatically cutting the last paragraph of stories because I think that one reason that it is hard to find a good story is that there is an emphasis on technical innovation rather than story telling.
In thinking about this, I found a copy of one of my short story collections that had only one or two stories that I had considered bringing in for others to read. It was THE BEST AMERICAN SHORT STORIES 2009. The preface was by Heidi Pitlor, who had read dozens of stories to winnow the list for the final selection. The preface began: “This year I read a large number of wonderfully messy, wildly plotted, and/or boldly paced stories. Stories that took risks.” It described the selected stories thus: “Each of these twenty stories is risky in its own way.”
I have a feeling that Alice McDermott—or Anton Chekhov—would not make the cut if the criterion was taking risks rather than telling stories.