From Gabriel Blackwell’s “The Shape of ‘Short’ Fiction”:
I realize I have said much that is abstract, and provided little in the way of proof, and so I will end this post, this series of posts, with an example: John Madera’s “Notes Toward the Recovery of Desiderata,” in the latest issue of Conjunctions. It is a story that begs to be turned over, flipped about, turned and returned, a story whose first sentence is:
This being something about closed doors and opening windows; or, this being an omnibus of memory’s debris, history’s talus, and desire’s residuum; or, this being a brooding topography of perception and a cross-section of time’s strata; or, since there is always a forgetting in the remembering…
[which sentence continues onto a second page] and which story concludes some 15 pages later:
What you have, instead, is something with a lot of holes in it, each hole a kind of scotoma, an obscuration of the textual field, something chockablock with porous words like doors, brooding, look, blood, choosing, logos, schoolgirl…schoolroom, tobacco, rococo, hooked, swooning, nook, doom, fool, unmoored, scotoma, and porous.
Rest assured that the 14 pages between are not simply anagram or half- blank crossword. They are full of life, history, full of narrative and incident. But we find satisfaction here because the distance traveled is not so great that we find ourselves on this near shore with no memory of the far, of our embarkation and our route. The pleasure comes in recognizing just where we began (“doors”) in this ending (“porous”), seeing the contours we have traveled in getting there, contours that would be as invisible in a larger (“longer”) work — at the very least, difficult for most readers to discern upon a first reading, like asking an ant what shape the Superdome is (mushroom-cloud-shaped, for you sports-heathens, though ask an ant what shape a mushroom is, and you’re likely to find yourself doubting your understanding of the shape “mushroom”). For that ant, the answer is likely to be “flat,” just as we perceive the earth’s surface, just as we perceive the “unraveling” of the epic as taking us in one direction or another. We do not have an analogous expectation of the short form, and this, I believe, is because we have a different appreciation for, and different demands on, its dimensions, for its contours and, yes, its shape. Regardless of its heft, it is something we feel we can lift, something we can turn, something whose design, while perhaps still ineffable, bears more or less immediate rewards to those intrepid enough to investigate. It is in some ways a human scale, given that we understand our consciousness as a mistake, distraction as oeuvre rather than detriment.
From Robert Kloss’s “Your Place Or Mine? a review of Lily Hoang’s Unfinished“:
Similarly ‘The Museum of Oddities and Eccentricities’ from John Madera is set up as a history and an introduction to a fantastical museum where the exhibits invite loss. They encourage time to tinker, an alternation between hallucination and delusion….The exhibits create a mishmash of fantasy, for empty stretches of space. This before we eventually learn that the museum is in fact a former dollhouse won in a hotly contested game of Go Fish. This information arrives late in a story dense with vivid and extraordinary details, and has the effect of forcing the reader to mistrust the twist, ever so slightly, in favor of believing in the realness of the main character’s fantasy life.