Complete fiction: why 'the short story renaissance' is a myth
With soaring sales, viral hits like Cat Person and a cameo by Tom Hanks, the form seems to be staging a comeback. But did it ever go away?
In 2017, almost 50% more short story collections were sold than in the previous year. It was the best year for short stories since 2010. Booksellers are reporting a surge in popularity for the form, commentators note publishers are buying more collections and issuing them with greater care and enthusiasm; in December the newcomer Kristen Roupenian cut five- and seven-figure deals in the UK and US after her New Yorker story “Cat Person” went viral. On top of all that, collections are being reviewed more than ever before, the Sunday Times EFG short story award (worth £30,000) has received its highest ever number of entries and the BBC national short story award continues to grow in popularity. We are experiencing the renaissance of the short story form, right?
Wrong; which isn’t to say 2017 wasn’t a good year for the short story – it was, but the “renaissance of the short story” story is an old one that is rolled out year after year. Does that matter? I think it does. By getting caught up in this recurring phantom narrative, and dwelling on press release froth rather than the work being produced, we spurn the opportunity to talk about short stories in a way that might actually deepen how they are understood and engaged with by readers.
How can the short story ever have time to wither, given the frequency of its rebirth?
In the cases of Tom Hanks and Jojo Moyes, these books sold because of who wrote them, not because of what they are
Related: Top 10 contemporary short stories