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Posts in "Short story collections" category

“Uneven” Short Story Collections

Uneven Short Story Collections  One of the most common critiques I hear for short story collections is that they're "uneven." I don't hear it very often for novels, and only occasionally as a critique of an author's oeuvre.

A few brief samples:

  • Publisher's Weekly called David Foster Wallace's "Brief Interviews with Hideous Men" uneven.
  • Seattle Times called Evan S. Connell's "Lost In Uttar Pradesh" uneven.
  • Martin Amis's "Heavy Water and Other Stories" called uneven.
  • In the LA Times, John Freeman called John Updike's "My Father's Tears" an uneven collection.

It's not exaggerating to call it the most frequent criticism leveled at short story collections. But I wonder whether this critique is effective or informative. 

I think the "uneven" critique is particularly prejudiced against short story collections that embrace a wide variety of forms, such as pairing postmodern meta-fiction along with Carver-type realism and throwing in some genre-inspired work. 

Almost inevitably, the reviewers tastes will lean towards one style or another, and they'll laud half the collection and slam the other half. So the critical matrix of short story reviewers (where "uneven" or "even" is used to judge collections) encourages a form-based, limited type of "unity" to collections, and discourage a thematic or innovative type of unity.

"Uneven" also says more about a reviewer's taste than about the content itself. I know this is tricky waters — how would one separate the reviewer's taste from their evaluation of content? — but I feel as if the word uneven is shorthand for "I liked some stories and I didn't like others," which doesn't tell me much about whether I would like the same stories or dislike the ones disliked.

Also, saying that some stories are liked and others disliked is a bit of a cop-out, review-wise. You could direct this criticism at virtually all collections — aren't collections, by their nature, created so some stories stand out of the pack, and seem better than others?

Uneven also means the reviewers are judging the collection as a mosaic of pieces, rather than as a unified whole. For some collections, this is the appropriate approach, but for others, it might be better to judge it as a cohesive beast, the same way one might read and review a novel. A good collection accomplishes a certain goal, and the reviewer should pay attention to the degree to which that goal is attained, talking about the collection as a single entity.

Short Story Collections in 2010

Happy 2010, everyone. And get ready for a new spate of short fiction. We got some doozies forthcoming.

Here are ten upcoming short story collections I’m looking forward to this year.

Upcoming Short Story Collections  Sam Shepard, Day out of Days (January) 

Forthcoming stories  Amy Bloom, Where the God of Love Hangs Out (January) Stories linked by the motif of love.

New short story collections  T.C. Boyle, Wild Child (January) Boyle’s one of our best. A master of the short story.

2010 short stories Richard Bausch, Something is Out There (February) Love the cover art.

Upcoming collections Thomas Lynch, Apparition & Late Fictions (February) Haven’t read my review copy yet. Publisher’s Weekly panned it, but Kirkus praised it. Only five stories, but looking forward to the novella.

Upcoming 2010 books Brad Watson, Aliens in the Prime of Their Lives (March) 

Forthcoming books Tiphanie Yanique, How to Escape from a Leper Colony (March) Been looking for more fiction from Yanique ever since I read the title story, which won the Boston Review 2005 prize.

New 2010 stories Ron Rash, Burning Bright (March) Burning Bright review from I Read A Short Story Today. Title story first published in Ecotone, which has developed quite a nice reputation in its brief but distinguished life.

Short Stories Robin Black, If I Loved You, I Would Tell You This (March)

Boys and girls like you and me  Aryn Kyle, Boys and Girls Like You and Me (April) Contrary to the title, this one’s all about women and girls.