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At the turn of the 20th century, a well-made American story was one delivered in a straightforward style. O. Henry and Stephen Crane relied on suspense and tight construction to propel the reader along the story’s length. This method backgrounds the writer, foregrounds the tale.

By the second half of the century all this had changed. There were four causes: the rise of the writing workshop, the sudden preponderance of writing students, the starved market for short fiction (gone was the Saturday Evening Post, gone was Collier’s), and the advent of TV. New thinking, as modeled by Eudora Welty and John Cheever and then apotheosized in the K-Mart realism of the students of Gordon Lish, proposed a different method of keeping the American reader turning pages: you made them feel through the characters, sympathize with characters – you made your characters into someone they might meet on the street, befriend, and gossip about. Incident was less important: what was more important was that you made them see themselves in someone with a very different life. This method backgrounds the writer, foregrounds the character.
More… “Singsong Kidspeak”

John Cotter’s first novel Under the Small Lights appeared in 2010 from Miami University Press. A founding editor at the review site Open Letters Monthly, John’s published critical work in Sculpture, Bookforum, and The The Poetry Foundation. Say hi at John [at] JohnCotter [dot] net.
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If you missed part I of Kelly Cherry's examination of writing style, read it here.
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And now, to examine an entirely different style, consider this line from Ben Marcus’s experimental and lovely first novel, The Age of Wire and String, published in 1995. The author’s postmodern premise is that when we look at an object, our desire destroys it. It opens thus:

This book is a catalog of the life project as prosecuted in the Age of Wire and String and beyond, into the arrangements of states, site, and cities and, further, within the small houses that have been granted erection or temporary placement on the perimeters of districts and river colonies. The settlement, in clusters and dispersed, has long required a document of secret motion and instruction — a collection of studies that might serve to clarify the terms obscured within every facet of the living program.

He includes a kind of mini-dictionary with which we can interpret the very short stories in eight sections that make up the book. Sadness, the dictionary tells us, sadness “can be eradicated with more of itself, in which case the face results in a placid system coursing with water, heaving.” A “wind bowl” is a “pocket of curved, unsteady space formed between speaking persons.” “The mother” is “the softest location in the house.”
More… “…And How To Get It”

Kelly Cherry‘s new poetry book is Quartet for J. Robert Oppenheimer. Her book of flash fiction titled Temporium is forthcoming later this year.
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