I might catch some flack for this, but I need to put it out there because I'm trying to get through The Best American Short Stories of 2009 and I'm on the verge of stabbing my eyes out with a pencil.
Let's start with the writing. When I read a short story, or any fiction, for that matter, I want something insightful and unique. I want to read something in a way it hasn't been said before, and I want it in the active voice. Is that too much to ask? Really? I thought that was part of what this whole writing thing is about. I've seen more thought and creativity poured into the instructions on how to use Palmolive than some of these stories.
Now, for the story part. Nothing happens in these stories. These fictional worlds are kind of amazing that way. They're like little monochromatic scenes trapped in snow globes without any fake snow; lifeless bioms. In its own way, this is kind of amazing, but it's not interesting reading. Why do people do this? I don't understand.
I know that things slow down as we get older and that maybe there's less angst and passion compared to what we experience during adolescence. To a point, you could argue that's a reason adult literary fiction would be less exciting than YA fiction, but I've been an adult for over twelve years now, and I still have plenty of excitement in my life. Adults do still have things they're passionate about and things that matter to them. A lot of these stories seem to have characters going through the motions. Pregnant women look down at their bellies and say, "Oh yeah. I guess I'm knocked up. Whatever." (Only in more stilted dialogue.)
Look, I know that John Stuart Mill is a dry writer, and Henry James is a little slow, but I have a bulletin for the English majors writing these things: they're both dead! Maybe writing like that is what killed them. Just because someone else did it doesn't mean you should go on and keep inflicting this violation against the English language on everyone else.
At one time, Americans actually read fiction in magazines. Popular magazines published short stories in every issue and people read them and looked forward to them. Then, this happened and I'm not okay with that.
Can we please, please, please put a little story in the stories? Maybe some developed characters? Some, I don't know, conflict? It would be so nice.