language itself becomes a life preserver


Not a short story, not quite a novella — wasn’t that a Britney Spears song? — the oxymoronic long short story is an underemployed literary form. (For argument’s sake, let’s say the long short story ranges from 30 to 60 pages.) F. Scott Fitzgerald’s “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button” (1922) is a perfect example of the length’s virtues: the story, covering the whole of a character’s life, is ample enough to be divided into chapters, yet the execution retains an antic swiftness that lofts the bizarre premise. Contemporary practitioners who thrive at this length include Alice Munro, Ethan Canin and the underread Rachel Ingalls. To this list must be added Ted Chiang, whose “Stories of Your Life and Others” (Small Beer Press: 320 pp., $16 paper) contains a half-dozen such specimens, along with a regulation-length short story and a three-pager, commissioned by the magazine Nature, in the form of a letter to the editor of a science magazine. Originally published in 2002 by Tor and newly reissued by Small Beer Press, the stories range widely in time, subject and style but are united by a patient but ruthless fascination with the limits of knowledge.

more from Ed Park at the LA Times here.