The poet-critic Randall Jarrell once defined the novel as “a prose narrative of a certain length that has something wrong with it.” The short story might be said to differ from the novel in that there need not be anything wrong with it—perfection, of however narrow a kind, being attainable in the shorter form that is inconceivable in the long. It was probably this that William Faulkner had in mind when he said he turned to writing novels because poetry was too hard and short stories only slightly easier.
Faulkner’s positioning of the short story seems relevant to more than the degree of difficulty involved. The best short fiction presents us with a distillation of internal experience in something of the way that poetry does; less allusive, more grounded in the details of individual lives, it nevertheless tends to center on an epiphany, a moment of intense illumination, that is recognizably poetic in nature.
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