Like a poem, a short story needs to make every word count. If what you’re writing doesn’t advance the story or contribute in some fundamental way then it more than likely doesn’t have a place there; and if you can’t make everything count then you should really write a novel.
Minimalist American Short Story Writers
The short form is a difficult form to master, particularly for the beginner. However, there are many great masters out there to learn from. Today I’ll be looking at the great masters of what has been coined “Dirty Realism”. This isn’t fiction that is X rated or obscene in any way, it’s merely a phrase used by the editor of Granta to describe a particular breed of American writers during their heyday in the 1980s. He entitled an issue of Granta “Dirty Realism” and their type of fiction as been known by this name ever since.
Some of the writers involved in this loose gathering of a movement were: Richard Ford, Jane Anne Phillips, Tobias Wolff, Frederick Barthelme, Mary Robison, Ann Beatie, and of course the late Raymond Carver. Their fiction is not easy to get a grip on. They all write short stories that are not adorned with clever language and literary devices; they are colloquial and very easy to read.
Their meanings however are reflected by the tragic lives that they display. The stories are full of construction workers, waitresses, supermarket workers, or the unemployed, all doing their best to get on with their lives and struggle through events that are never really resolved; they are literally just there, haunting the characters in the book. In virtually all the books by these writers, the true meaning of their stories are not reflected in these seemingly banal encounters recounted in the few thousand words they take to tell, they exist in the omissions and what is not being said between the characters; it’s almost like reading a soap opera that never resolves anything.
So where did it come from?
Most books reflect their age, if they’re any good that is. And when you consider the age in which most of these “dirty realists” came from you can identify that they were the youth of the sixties. The 1960s in America held such promise in many ways for the young. There were books that defied the system, music that rebelled and people were finding their voices. However, since it all never really worked out, these writers then became suspicious of easy fixes, promises and governments. One could almost say that they were cynical about the world; but there is little wonder when they grew up into the 1980s, trying to raise a family and make ends meet. They then inhabited a world of easy idealism, junk food and mass consumerism.
This is why their stories are filled with these constant references to popular culture. They are detailing the debris of the postmodern era in America’s 1980s. The dirty realists do not offer any easy resolutions, their fiction books make a new statement in the postmodern debate and illuminate the fragmented society in which they live by representing it as it is rather than trying to turn it into something it’s not.