How Short Could a Short Story Be if a Story Could Be Short?

Last week, I debated whether Twitter could be literature. I didn’t end up with a clear answer, essentially concluding that the difference between words and literature is only based on the subjectivity that is intention and interpretation. In other words, if the author meant it to be literature, it is, and if the reader understands it as literature, it is.

This, of course, is not very helpful. Perhaps that discussion can be continued and furthered, then, by looking at an accepted shorter form of literature — the short story.

Neil GaimanI’m finishing up the illustrious Neil Gaiman’s Trigger Warning right now, a collection of “short fictions and disturbances.” I’ve loved Neil Gaiman’s novels for a long time; American Gods and Good Omens (written with Terry Pratchett) are two of my favorite books. Yet despite my enjoyment of Gaiman’s novels, I have always been more fascinated with his short fiction. As he puts it, they are often “disturbances,” seemingly small pieces of a puzzling whole that is always just out of my grasp.

So while I find immense enjoyment in the novels of Neil Gaiman, it is the short stories to which I return. One of the works in Trigger Warning has a short tale for each month. Part of the “May Tale” goes:

In October I found a notice saying, “Normal Service Will Be Resumed as Soon as Possible. Honest,” taped to the side of the goldfish tank. Two of the goldfish appeared to have been taken and replaced by identical substitutes.

In November I received a ransom note telling me exactly what to do if ever I wished to see my uncle Theobald alive again. I do not have an Uncle Theobald, but I wore a pink carnation in my buttonhole and ate nothing but salads for an entire month anyway.

It is really no more enlightening to read the rest of the story; I promise you will discover no more about the goldfish, normal service, or poor Uncle Theobald by reading the entirety. This, however, is a piece I have already reread even before finishing the book. Why does it draw me in as such an incomplete story? I think the stories that let us imagine and speculate, that prompt our own storytelling, are among the best.

What is your favorite short story?


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