Tuesday, December 6, 2016

Story Is Nothing to Joke about

The modern short story has over the years since Anton Chekhov and his dramatic ironies, begun to move cautiously away from the need Poe felt to show Fortunato begging Montressor for his life, leaving us instead with the sound of the trowel, slathering mortar on the growing wall of bricks and the growing awareness that Fortunato's pleas resonate echo-like in the growing sepulcher.

All of which is to say the story the writer produces ends a step or two from the way the story concludes in the reader's mind, which is further to say that a story is beginning to rely less on the equivalent ending to the punchline of a joke, drawing instead on a rich display of parallel themes, more honest implications, and a greater sense that the characters are more caught up in the gap between their own goals and the social, moral, or political conventions in which they have become embedded.

So long as you are piling on the interpretations, there is this to consider as well: The twenty-first-century writer appears to find satisfaction beyond telling a story that involves an emotional impact. 

The twenty-first-century writer wishes to build a dramatic edifice that more completely surrounds the reader, involving the reader in outcome, choices and memory-linked responses of his own.

In consequence of these shifting sands of dramatic closure, the more memorable stories are those in which there are at least two thematic parallel lines, wherein one character, driven by inner conflicts, faces off against another character who is driven by outer pressures.

The goal of the modern story is no longer to merely amuse with a finely honed punchline nor instruct with some outcome that could have been the subtext of a parable or sermon. Instead, the desired outcome is to allow the reader some identity with the manner in which the concluding resolution is achieved.

Not all that long ago, endings were presented in which the outcome was the false equivalence of Reality with some virtue such as persistence, pureness of heart, altruism, and that most sanctimonious outcome of all, that the poor must be cheerful and not resentful of their lot. 

Thanks to the persistence of men and women who write to demonstrate the ways Reality cannot be manipulated, short stories now demonstrate through inference and irony the ways in which we can cause some effect on the face of Reality, even if it is as small as demonstrating the mouth wrinkles and crow's feet that begin to appear on Reality after we've immersed in it over a significant time span.


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