Thursday, May 20, 2004

Where are all the good stories?

As the former editor of a small literary journal, I've read a lot of lousy short stories. Far too often, the stuff I come across in the bookstore isn't much better. It would be easy to wash my hands of the whole thing, declare that there just aren't and good short stories anymore, and go bury my head in The First Forty-nine.

But a recent trip through the blogosphere turned up's list of this year's National Magazine Award finalists (complete with links to all available online content!), and I had myself a bit of an epiphany.

I've read about half of the stories cited in the nominations, and they were good. Damn good.

The material from Zoetrope and The Paris Review really stood out in my mind, but even that old stalwart, The New Yorker, deserved its nod. Sure, The New Yorker may seem a bit too much a part of the establishment to deserve accolades as the guardian of new and innovative short fiction, and they may publish T. C. Boyle just a little too often for my taste, but what other magazine publishes so much new fiction on so frequent a basis? I wouldn't be able to justify a subscription to Esquire or The Atlantic Monthly just for the fiction--and I'll admit that I'm not always interested in much else--but The New Yorker prints 50-60 new stories a year. Even The Paris Review, for all its stature and quality, is doing well if it reaches 20.

So, interestingly enough, I'm optimistic. Adam Haslett's You Are Not a Stranger Here and Julie Orringer's How To Breathe Underwater have earned places of honor on my bookshelf, and I'm looking forward to starting Lucky Girls by Nell Freudenberger.

And I may just have to get a couple of subscriptions in the mail.

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