To use “Stephen King” and “short” in the same sentence, when short has reference to a literary work, can seem incongruous. I was enticed by a $9 prepublication offer on Amazon.com to order his recent novel Under the Dome whose 1074 pages showed up on my doorstep on Wednesday (and weighs in at close to four pounds). Short, it isn’t.
King, however, is a student of the short story (and a practitioner of the craft), as he revealed in an essay for the NY Times Review of Books published two years ago entitled “What Ails the Short Story”. (Residents of Sarasota and Bradenton take note that when he says, “I want to begin by telling you about a typical short-story-hunting expedition at my favorite Sarasota mega-bookstore” King is, as a resident of Casey Key, referring to the Barnes and Noble on S. Tamiami Trail.)
I thought of this essay this afternoon after I finished reading a story and was reminded what a unique art form it is. I do not understand enough to explain how a short story differs from a novel; I am just clear that it does.
This is a story about a young Hasidic Jew who in 1956 determines to bring order and justice to a world in which he had witnessed the death of his parents in a German concentration camp. The way to do this is to join the NY Yankees and with the likes of Yogi Berra and Mickey Mantle looking on drive 2000 balls on 2000 pitches out of Yankee Stadium.
I know. It’s crazy. But somehow the story works. The border between reality and fantasy is blurred, and one is drawn into a world where such things are possible. It works like a short story should. It is sparse and compact and full of sentences and words that have to be pondered, much like poetry.
This is perhaps why the form has lost some of its favor. It requires time, reflection, consideration. King refers to the books at the front of the mega-store, including his own, as mostly ‘disposable’. The well composed short story cannot be so cast aside. It worms your way into your soul and forces reflection. I, at least, need more of this in my literary diet.
The picture here is taken from Helprin’s web site and is an image of the first draft of one of his stories. Handwritten. So quaint.