Superleggero means “Superlight”–in the realm of cars, superlight ain’t bad. It’s terrific.
The novel is widely regarded as the most desirable (and publishable) format of writing, at least for fiction. Ask a literary agent what she thinks of short story collections, and she’s likely to answer, “Whenever someone presents me with a short story collection, I ask if they can write a novel instead,” adding “Short stories just don’t sell.” (They don’t. A novel is considered a “best seller” when 5,000 copies are sold…a short story collection is considered a best seller if it sells 2,000 copies).
Additionally, the short story collections that do get published are with the understanding that the writer tackle and write a novel as a followup–take Jhumpa Lahiri’s The Namesake and Daniel Alarcon’s Lost City Radio, for starters. Jhumpa Lahiri proved that she is a much better short story writer, and yet she’s pressured to write a novel–the Holy Grail of published writers. At the end of the fiction finish line is: The novel, the novel, the novel, the novel. The novel!!!
I started, as so many fiction writers have, with writing short stories. Being in an MFA program also encourages the short story format; writing workshops are just so much friendlier to nurturing short stories. Yet, the novel is the penultimate product for a writer, despite this lack of support or scaffolding for the learning writer. So it is that many of us make the leap across the chasm, with great hope and few tools. It’s what we have been taught to aim for: The Novel. So for the last couple of years, I have been writing a novel.
But recent developments have made me unable to even look at my novel, let alone write my novel. In addition, reading novels is an entirely different sort of exercise for me now, as my cognitive skills return in different form and/or return slowly. So what have I been doing?
In addition to memoir and nonfiction, I have been reading short stories, and slowly returning to the realm of fiction through beginning attempts at short story writing. The short story has regained prominence in my writing life these days…and I wonder, “Do I really want to work on my novel?” Should I change my thesis from my novel to a collection of short stories?
Elsewhere, others are documenting their 10 Favorite Short Stories–it has awakened my thinkings about the short story genre. It has encouraged me to read more short stories; today I read Flannery O’Connor’s “A Good Man is Hard to Find,” courtesy of Literary Kitten’s Short Story Challenge. The story was amazing–I read it in the backseat of my car on a longish roadtrip today, in an eerie reflection of the short story’s similar setting. It pierced my psyche in all sorts of ways, this rich nugget of literature.
And yes, sometimes I remember the amuse bouche (short story) of an elegant and extraordinary 12 course meal more than I remember the entree (novel).
In the course of this “10 Favorite Short Stories” meme, someone (and I can’t remember who it was–so if you know who it was, please let me know so I can credit her (I’m pretty sure the person was a woman) properly) observed that the selection of the participants’ “10 Favorite Short Stories” has been incredibly diverse (as opposed to how a 10 favorite novels survey might come out). She concluded that short stories must pierce the psyche like no novel can, resulting in such a wide variety of choices.
Of course, this leads me to the observation of one of my writing professors/mentors, a poet and short story writer himself, during my first semester as an MFA student. “There’s nothing wrong with short stories you know,” he said with great weariness at the pressures of publishing. We all nodded blankly, our eyes focused past his shoulder on the novelistic horizon.
Now, nearly three years later, I think, “He’s right.”