Wells Tower’s short story collection, Everything Ravaged, Everything Burned, is getting raves. Must-read books are piling up on my coffee table and in the literary Netflix queue in the back of my mind. I’m tempted to bump Tower to the front of the line. If I do, it’ll be because of Deborah Eisenberg’s beautifully written review in the New York Review of Books. Her piece is filled with provocative thoughts on fiction and fiction writing. Here’s Eisenberg discussing how plot functions differently in a short story vs. a novel:
It could be said, as an expedient, that the plot of a given piece of fiction is a phantom organism—an embodiment and enactment of the author’s preoccupations and obsessions—and that this organism is what allows us to experience the piece’s deep pleasures: its insight, its beauty, its mystery, its power—whatever are the essential properties of the piece; that a plot, like a grammatical structure, is an expression of innate relationships in the mind. Long fiction has room to fill things in whereas short fiction, due to the stringency of selection it imposes, tends to demand a more active role from the reader, who must supply a chargeable receptivity, a medium in which compressed signals can unfold and send an associative web of sparks flying out between them. And it seems to me—to make yet another broad and possibly somewhat rickety generalization—that because a work of short fiction must so quickly and unerringly present evidence of the world that lies under its surface, the plot of a good story is likely to be a stranger, more volatile, and more evanescent sort of thing than the plot of a novel.