This week we round out the offerings of our interns with this thoughtful piece about short fiction’s ascent as THE most popular form of literature these days.
The other day I was browsing the Internet when I came upon a Wattpad fanfiction about Ariana Grande, or specifically, Ariana Grande’s secret twin, Emily. Emily looks exactly like Ariana, except she has red hair, or one of them does, and Ariana’s boyfriend can’t tell them apart. This causes Ariana’s twin a lot of grief, and throughout the ensuing ten chapters we get a badly-punctuated play-by-play of the twins’ romantic tribulations as they try to sort out who’s entitled to poor, confused Eric. The story has four thousand views.
Author Jim Shepard, interviewed in Juked lit mag, asserts that fiction will soon “[occupy] the sort of niche that poetry occupies” in American culture. Writers write mainly for each other, he says, tailoring their work to the specifications of their peers. This trend is not a figment of Shepard’s imagination: even bestselling author Junot Diaz has remarked anecdotally that it is insanely difficult to achieve a spot on the bestseller list as a writer of literary fiction. Familiar names like Nicholas Sparks, James Patterson and E.L. James crowd these lists. Nobody expects to make money off literature; the days of Dickens’ serialized adventures are long gone. Popular and literary fiction have for the most part diverged.
But clearly, there is a demand for stories. I lifted a finger on Google and found a secret world where twelve-year-olds escape into the lives of their favorite pop stars. The market for stories is ripe. Is this the reason behind another recent trend in American literature, the rise of the short story? This form is far less constrained by the genre/literary dichotomy, and has traditionally appealed to the public with bold takes on contentious issues – think “The Yellow Wallpaper,” “The Birthmark,” “A Good Man is Hard to Find.” Is it possible that in turning away from long-form literary fiction, the public have freed us, as writers, from a tired and dusty model? Novels have a certain elitism short stories lack; anyone can sit down and read the latter and, with a little education, grasp it fully. Clean up that Ariana Grande story, break up those chapters into readable blocks of texts and you could have a postmodern commentary on the state of the modern short story, David Foster Wallace style.