Monday, November 26, 2012

a small group of guys with limited resources

Since I'm working on a short novel right now (well, two short novels), I was pleased to see someone rise to their defense. Specifically, a Bookslut review of C├ęsar Aira's The Miracle Cures of Dr. Aira isn't really about that specific book as much as short books in general.

The reviewer sees long books, which he doesn't pin down to a concrete measurement but let's just say they're anything above 500 pages, as either overpopulated, overwritten perversions of Dostoevsky or "endless, sentimental, middleclass novels of domestic interaction," and goes on to say that "often you see material perhaps sufficient for a five-page story stretched to six hundred of the soporific best." Ouch.

I do agree though, at least for the most part. A lot of long books seem artificially long, as if they're a result of the author showing off more than actually crafting a narrative, and a lot of them tend to hold the reader's hand through the plot and character developments, which requires pages of summary and exposition and people sitting in chairs remembering things. Not that those are automatic signs of poor storytelling, but in the wrong hands they can be boring as hell.

My friend Timmy Reed has said that he enjoys shorter books because he can reread them and keep learning from them, and Michael Kimball told Moonshot that short books are more tense, and that his latest book, Big Ray, was short because he "decided to cut out lots of unnecessary material and description—all that set up and explanation," and that he "didn’t want any of the filler that [he] read in so many other books." The last Ken Sparling book I read was only around 35k words, and that guy's awesome, and both Timmy and Michael are at their best (which is damn good) when they employ minimalism.

Unfortunately, the Bookslut review ends up beating the anti-MFA drum by saying that MFA programs encourage bland, conservative writing and that only a few writers can be truly great and blah blah blah, but their defense of leaner books is still one worth reading and considering.

It's also worth noting that even short novels take a long-ass time to write. Just saying.