Fair Use III

Am slightly over halfway through Best American Short Stories 2005 edited by Michael Chabon. Opening sentence of Tom Bissell’s "Death Defier":

Graves had been sick for three days when, on the long, straight highway between Mazar and Kunduz, a dark blue truck coming toward them shed its rear wheel in a spray of orange-yellow sparks.

I don’t know what scheme or plan Chabon used to order the stories in this anthology but it certainly isn’t to bury weaker entries in the middle. Maybe it was to place longer stories in the middle. At 35 pages Bissell’s is better an more substantial than most novels I’ve read this year, doing what fiction used to do and is what fiction is meant to do: it illuminates the world around us — the whole world not just the bits of it that people who write and read fiction mill about in. Balzac, Dickens, Stephen Crane, Chekov did it, and in the century just passed, John O’Hara, Ring Lardner and others carried on the tradition. Based on serious scholarship I performed last week by seeing the movie Capote I’m guessing that this started to change at the beginning of the 1960’s when Capote published his last masterpiece In Cold Blood, and narrative non-fiction began to supplant fiction in the role of examining the zeitgeist. It now may be turning back and Chabon’s done a lot to say that yes, narrative fiction is a legitimate form, (as opposed to slice-of-life fiction). "Death Defier" appeared in a literary journal, not a mass-market slick as it would have a half-century ago, but at least it shows that the stories are out there, whether the market exists for them or not. 


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