Thursday, March 18, 2004

Excerpt This, Buddy

I subscribe to the New Yorker magazine. I really enjoy reading it except for one thing. 95% of the time, the short story is an excerpt from a novel. They do not say that it is an excerpt or anything. They present it as a stand alone story. So what's the big whoop I hear you say, if it can stand alone as a story then read it as such. Ah, but what happens when next year you happen to read the novel from which the story was excerpted? What happens when you get the deja vu feeling that something seems kinda familiar? What happens when you read further and you realize that you have read it before and now the context is totally changed and it basically has ruined your experience of the novel? What happens is you mentally yell from the mental depths of your mental lungs "FUCK FUCK FUCK FUCK YOU NEW YORKER!!!!!".

The New Yorker when I started reading it in the 80's had two to three short stories a week (and 52 issues a year). They were usually not excerpts - they were well-crafted short stories by short story writers. Now the New Yorker runs at most one "fiction" piece in one of its (45 or is it 44 or is it 36 issues a year) issues. The fiction piece is usually by a name writer who probably has a publishing deal with somebody that influences the deal or the New Yorker thinks it can only sell fiction by a name writer etc. Whatever the reason, it appears that the inclusion of the "fiction" is because of other reasons than that it was the best story submitted to the editors. I just want a self-contained, well written short story that doesn't RUIN THE READING OF A NOVEL LATER AND IF IT IS AN EXCERPT I WANT IT LABELLED SO!

Apparently the reviewer at The Stranger feels the same. Here is an excerpt:

The New Yorker prints excerpts from novels as short stories all the time. The problem with this particular excerpt is that it happened to be the very heart of the book. Lodged just before the middle, the chapter's all a flashback, culminating in Daisy's young death; it's the part of the book that glimmers opalescent and alive and quivering, animating to the best of its ability the rest. Elsewhere in the novel, Jerry Battle is pushing 60, but the death of his wife is what has informed all his other relationships, or lack thereof. If you've read the excerpt, it's deflating to anticipate it--and more so to reach it, reread it, and soldier on, realizing that it's the best part of the book.
Exactly! So until the New Yorker revamps its "fiction" policy, the following authors I have learned not to read in the New Yorker: Chang-rae Lee, Louise Erdrich, Jonathem Lethem, Jonathan Foer, John Irving, Zadie Smith, Alice Tyler, and et fucking cetera. I can't even depend on not recognizing the author because first novels are now being excerpted first as well. The Atlantic and Harpers both label their stories as excerpts, and I believe others do as well. Is it too much to ask to identify it as "This is an excerpt of a novel in progress", is it?

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