Friday, October 25, 2013

Munro Doctrine

The truth is that Alice Munro is a terrible writer.

All one need do is look at the short story The New Yorker has republished in its current (10/21/13) issue: "The Bear Came Over the Mountain." I didn't get past the overwritten first paragraph. Like most literary writers, Alice Munro is afflicted with detail disease. In the story she gives us a well-observed cataloging of minutiae. Is this guaranteed to hook anyone outside a creative writing course? Uh, no.

What Munro gives us, like so many of her literary establishment peers, is a bad model for the short story. All emphasis is on the "well-crafted sentence." This has become the lit world's highest value. And so they pile on impressive sentence after sentence, not caring that the sentences should be mere pieces toward a larger goal. As the work becomes coagulated, reading it becomes a slog.

Gatekeepers of the art like Heidi Pitlor are incapable of looking beyond the indoctrination of the writing program. Glance at Heidi's twitter account, @BAShortStories. She posts literary sentences which catch her interest. Plot? Theme? Excitement? Pace? Meaning? It's clear what Heidi Pitlor values.

Meanwhile, as Alice Munro has pursued her delicate and irrelevant art, interest in the short story from the general public has dwindled almost to nothingness. I've said before, I doubt if even many New Yorker subscribers read their fiction. Its purpose isn't to be read. Like a fashionable glossy magazine on a gentrified coffee table, the fiction exists as a taste marker. A sign of breeding and class.

The structure of the literary story today is particularly inapt in our A.D.D. era.

Short stories weren't always like Munro's. Once, writers got to it. "None of them knew the color of the sky." Yes, once, story writers like Stephen Crane, Jack London, and Ernest Hemingway could be descriptive but also vigorous and compelling. Painting a picture with a few brushstrokes-- not parked under the kitchen table jotting down like an observant cockroach every last teapot, cobweb, and kitchen spoon in the room.

(To read my own experiments in reviving the short story, pick up my ebook, TEN POP STORIES, at Kindle or Nook. Rumor has it the ebook is quite affordable. Each story is different. There's no excuse for not putting it onto your reading device!)


p.s. Here's a link to typically overwritten gushy praise from literary establishment types about Alice Munro. I picture Joyce Carol Oates, while typing her remarks, simultaneously poking the eyes out of an Alice Munro doll, wanting to tell the world that after all, others also, including herself, SHE, have produced overwritten, Chekovian and even hysterical short stories-- sometimes very violent stories-- in her particular instance, quite a few of them; if people anyone SOMEONE is handing out awards to deserving or at least long-suffering writers. . . .

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