Essence of the Short Story

I always start reading Mavis Gallant’s short stories with pad on knee, pencil in hand, ready to make notes about structure, style, characterization, and other nifty craft insights.

By the second paragraph all that is forgotten. I’m lost in the world of the story.

So I think about the story for a while and then re-read, this time determined to keep a clear, cold eye. Again swallowed whole by the story!

I don’t usually read introductions until I’ve read all the stories in a collection but when I started Mavis Gallant’s “Montreal Stories” again, I thought it might help get me into analytic mode.

And whoomph! There it was! In Russell Banks‘ Introduction. One of those huge, wonderful “yes, yes, that’s absolutely it” moments when all at once a basic ‘truth’ of short stories becomes totally clear and meaningful.

What is the essence of a short story? Not only did Russell Banks’ description enlighten Mavis Gallant’s stories for me, it clarified what I am trying to do with mine. I just had to share.

“The tension – and sometimes outright conflict – between remembered and felt experience on the one hand and, on the other, the known truth of what happened lies at the heart of all great short stories. It’s the argument that generates plot and structure, which, finally, gives a story meaning.” Russell Banks

You can read Russell Banks’ whole Introduction to Mavis Gallant’s “Montreal Stories” in Brick Magazine


Homage to Mavis Gallant

Crescent Street, Montreal (quotation from "The Fenton Child" by Mavis GallantThis year the Blue Metropolis Festival, Montreal’s annual literary festival, dedicated the opening event to Mavis Gallant who passed away earlier this year. Afterwards, Linda Leith, founder of Blue Metropolis and friend of Mavis Gallant, gathered writers, friends and fans together to pay tribute to her.

The stories painted a colorful picture of an entertaining conversationalist, an acute observer, a reluctant interviewee, a quick, incisive wit, an independent woman, a determined hard-working writer (over a period of ten years, she wrote 1,000 pages of a never-finished non-fiction book on the Dreyfus affair), a person who took great pleasure in her daily routine of ordering the plat du jour at her favorite bistro after her morning’s writing.

As a very young child, excited at meeting the Mother Superior, she Continue reading