Maria Loeschnigg, The Contemporary Canadian Short Story in English: Continuity and Change. CAT 7 (Trier: WVT, 2014), 381 pp.
Nov09

Maria Loeschnigg, The Contemporary Canadian Short Story in English: Continuity and Change. CAT 7 (Trier: WVT, 2014), 381 pp.

Maria Loeschnigg, The Contemporary Canadian Short Story in English: Continuity and Change. CAT 7 (Trier: WVT, 2014), 381 pp. Amerikastudien/ American Studies, 62.2 In spite of pessimistic forecasts regarding the future development of the Canadian short story by the Literary History of Canada in 1965,[1] the genre has flourished in the intervening decades since the book’s publication and has enjoyed ever-increasing recognition. In 2013, the Nobel Prize in Literature was bestowed upon a Canadian writer working solely within the genre,[2] thus also singling it out in the crowning of Alice Munro as the “master of the contemporary short story.”[3] And yet, despite the publication of more than twenty books on Munro’s short fiction in recent decades, the genre in Canada as such has hardly received comparable critical attention. Perhaps the abundant source material offered by its vibrant development since the “Canadian Renaissance” in the 1960s may explain the relative dearth of scholarly works comprehensively engaging with Canadian short fiction.[4] In the introduction to her contribution, Maria Loeschnigg stresses that the primary focus of some previous studies on the subject consisted of literary output up to the 1980s. Her own work endeavors to fill the gap that has opened in the interim, surveying the Canadian short story from the mid-1980s through the first decade of the twenty-first century. The result is indeed a very welcome addition to short story criticism. Loeschnigg, in the introduction, cogently embeds her book in the context of previous scholarship and pinpoints the major characteristics and structure of her own contribution. The approaches to important recent examples of the genre in Canada in the following seven chapters, as Loeschnigg herself muses, might indeed seem eclectic at first sight, ranging as they do from chapters dealing with a single author only (ch. 2), stories grouped by their authors’ gender (ch. 3), stories colored by their regional setting (ch. 4) as well as by globalization (ch. 5), stories by authors belonging to one ethnic group (ch. 6), genre experiments and transgressions (ch. 7), and, finally, the hybrid genre of the short story cycle (ch. 8). Seemingly a mixed bag, this particular cross-section is nonetheless persuasive, focusing on essential aspects of the genre in Canada today: its leading writer Alice Munro (who retired in the summer of 2013, just before she received the Nobel Prize); the predominance―both with regard to quantity and to quality―of female writers of the genre in Canada; the importance of region and “new regionalism” in the literature of the second-largest country on earth; the globalizing aspects of literature in a country of immigration where the term “multiculturalism” was first coined in the 1960s and where...

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Jochen Achilles and Ina Bergmann. Eds. Liminality and the Short Story: Boundary Crossings in American, Canadian, and British Writing (New York: Routledge, 2015), 282 pp.
Nov09

Jochen Achilles and Ina Bergmann. Eds. Liminality and the Short Story: Boundary Crossings in American, Canadian, and British Writing (New York: Routledge, 2015), 282 pp.

Jochen Achilles and Ina Bergmann. Eds. Liminality and the Short Story: Boundary Crossings in American, Canadian, and British Writing (New York: Routledge, 2015), 282 pp. Amerikastudien/ American Studies, 62.2 The concept of liminality is rather expansive, a fact that many of the contributors to Jochen Achilles and Ina Bergmann’s collection tend to convey. Predicated in part upon the premise that language and meaning are inherently fluid, Bergmann and Achilles assert in their brief preamble that the liminal presents a foundation for implementing “an innovative methodological perspective.” However, with so much basic research about frequently-taught, oft-anthologized works yet to be completed, one must consider the value of applying a somewhat amorphous theoretical construct to tales both canonical and obscure. In other words, this “perspective,” or set of perspectives, in some ways represents a return to the era of literary deconstruction. Thankfully, a number of the essays in this collection prove to be valuable contributions to the study of specific works as well as the short-story form itself. In the opening section, the editors offer a relatively clear explanation of liminality and its uses within the context of the short story form. They mention Arnold van Gennep’s The Rites of Passage and Victor Turner’s The Ritual Process (3), works that are referenced frequently throughout the book, and then explain how common thematic building blocks such as initiation and transition coincide with the methodology. This approach to short story theory is freeing, and it opens up a number of interesting possibilities for further study, but it is also necessarily abstract. Criticism written through the lens of liminality seems most efficacious when the foundational elements of story, such as plot and characterization, are at their most indeterminate or suggestive. In many respects, therefore, the essays here each contain a kernel of the postmodern and at times present a common problem: a broad definition of what constitutes the liminal reduces the descriptive usefulness of the method. The most utile sections and chapters of Liminality and the Short Story are those that rely upon concrete, direct examinations of specific texts. In that vein, Achilles and Bergmann offer an excellent selected bibliography at the end of Part I, providing a valuable point of departure for future scholarship. However, readers entirely unfamiliar with liminality would do well to begin with chapter four, Florian Zappe’s “In the Generic Interzone: On the Liminal Character of William S. Burroughs’s Routines,” an essay in which the author lucidly illustrates the nexus of literature and theory. Additionally, Zappe’s discussion of what Burroughs termed a “routine” is rather engaging and carries a number of analytical possibilities for readings of other works of fiction....

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Robert Paul Lamb,  The Hemingway Short Story: A Study in Craft for Writers and Readers (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 2015), 233 pp.
Nov09

Robert Paul Lamb, The Hemingway Short Story: A Study in Craft for Writers and Readers (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 2015), 233 pp.

Robert Paul Lamb,  The Hemingway Short Story: A Study in Craft for Writers and Readers (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 2015), 233 pp. Amerikastudien/ American Studies, 62.2 The professional study of literature places demands on scholars that are not required of casual readers, who are free to read as quickly or inventively as they wish without any special obligation to the process. However, scholars are obligated to give each text a careful examination resulting in the rigorous formulation of intellectually verifiable propositions about literature. In the context of this critical assumption, Robert Paul Lamb’s The Hemingway Short Story scores well as an exercise in basic close reading and rather poorly in many of its conclusions about themes and ideas, especially when given a biographical formulation. For the most part, the book is a welcome contribution to two important dimensions of American literary study, the ever-swelling library of investigations into Hemingway’s fiction and the newly energized emphasis on the story as an important genre in American literature. Although Lamb’s title suggests a wide-ranging consideration of the complete canon of Hemingway’s short fiction, the book is actually a discussion of only five stories, each of them receiving both detailed analysis (generally perceptive and restrained) and broad thematic interpretation (often moving quite beyond available evidence).  Lamb is at his best in working close to the text, in essentially an old-fashioned New Critical approach, including detailed considerations of the manuscripts, composition, and publication history of each work.  However, Lamb’s work could have benefitted from a more thorough examination of the previous criticism on Hemingway’s short stories. For example, Lamb did not consult Jackson Benson’s  massive The Short Stories of Ernest Hemingway: Critical Essays[i] nor Michael Reynolds’ celebrated Critical Essays on Ernest Hemingway’s In Our Time, a rich collection of scholarship presenting a spectrum of approaches to the vary stories under consideration.[ii] Lamb has not adequately considered the implications of Philip Young’s groundbreaking interpretation of “Big Two-Hearted River,” particularly with regard to Nick Adams’ war experiences and the therapeutic nature of ritualized activity that allows him, finally, to sleep.[iii] Arthur Waldhorn’s A Reader’s Guide to Ernest Hemingway exhibits great respect for the Hemingway’s text and admirable restraint in avoiding fanciful readings.[iv] Paul Smith’s A Reader’s Guide to the Short Stories of Ernest Hemingway is still the best study of the composition and publication history of the short fiction, and it includes virtually all of the information that Lamb offers on the background of the stories.[v] It also includes an insightful discussion of various interpretative approaches to each work. Milton A. Cohen’s Hemingway’s Laboratory: The Paris In Our Time also is an important guide...

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Frank Gado, ed., William Cullen Bryant:  The Complete Stories (Hartford, Vt.: Antoka Press: 2014) 327pp.
Nov09

Frank Gado, ed., William Cullen Bryant: The Complete Stories (Hartford, Vt.: Antoka Press: 2014) 327pp.

Frank Gado, ed., William Cullen Bryant:  The Complete Stories (Hartford, Vt.: Antoka Press: 2014) 327pp. Amerikastudien/ American Studies, 62.2 In many respects, Bryant has become a shadowy figure in the American literary canon. Students in academic classes may encounter “Thanatopsis,” but few others from Bryant’s verse output. They are even less likely to find specimens of his prose publications, and, among those, rarely find him represented by a short story. The American Writers Series volume of Bryant, edited by Tremaine McDowell (1935), includes only “A Border Tradition” and “The Indian Spring.” Frank Gado previously published two stories, “A Pennsylvania Legend” and “The Indian Spring,” in William Cullen Bryant: An American Voice (2006). Thus, Gado’s present edition fills a long-standing gap, supplying us, as it does, with the texts of Bryant’s thirteen stories, plus the “Preface” to The Talisman for 1828. The book could not have been prepared by a better editor than Frank Gado who has been championing Bryant’s causes for decades. Bryant’s stories are worth knowing as representatives of short-story themes during the early national era of American literature. They divide between the Sentimental and the Gothic; some focus on such then popular topics and tropes as the American landscape, Native American characters and circumstances, folk traditions that were appealing in American and other literary circles during the 1820s-30s. Stories like “A Border Tradition” and “A Pennsylvania Legend” connect with antecedent folklore, some of which has continued to wend its way into the present day. The uncertainties and, at times, violence that were part of American frontier life in young Bryant’s era also shape some of his fiction. Moreover, as Gado’s edition attests, Bryant’s stories are far removed from those narratives that seem to be chopped down novels, as is suggested by many specimen of the genre from the last decades of the eighteenth on through the first two decades of the nineteenth century. In contrast, Bryant’s stories have distinct and felicitous beginnings, middle sections, and conclusions. In this respect, his stories take deserved artistic rank with those of writers who are more generally cited as originators of the American short story as literary art: Irving, Hawthorne, and Poe. Bryant’s Gothic stories may hold out greater appeal than those of the sentimental stamp, though I admit to this preference as one of my own; as such they draw greater attention from students of American Romanticism to Bryant’s deft uses of Gothicism in some of his verse. Bryant’s abilities in narrative techniques are not customarily highlighted in discussions of his verse, which omission downplays or ignores his accomplishments in balladry and other types of verse narratives, just as his...

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Paul Stephens, The Poetics of Information Overload: From Gertrude Stein to Conceptual Writing (Minneapolis: U of Minnesota P, 2015), 241 pp.
Nov09

Paul Stephens, The Poetics of Information Overload: From Gertrude Stein to Conceptual Writing (Minneapolis: U of Minnesota P, 2015), 241 pp.

Paul Stephens, The Poetics of Information Overload: From Gertrude Stein to Conceptual Writing (Minneapolis: U of Minnesota P, 2015), 241 pp. Amerikastudien/ American Studies, 62.2 As the digital media affect ever greater portions of everyday life, scholarly interest in their impact on cultural production has increased as well. Poetry is not usually associated with technological innovation, and recent studies such as Wesley Beal’s Networks of Modernism (2015) and James Purden’s Modernist Informatics (2015) limit their focus to narrative texts. Yet Marjorie Perloff’s seminal Radical Artifice: Writing Poetry in the Age of Media (1991) demonstrated at an early point that the challenges of the digital age have inspired a variety of responses among contemporary poets. While the medial and material dimensions of this strand of poetry have since been examined by various scholars, the more fundamental question of how poets have reacted to the abundance of information made available by the new technologies has not been addressed. Paul Stephens’s study approaches this question by tracing the notion of information overload and the poetic strategies it engendered from the early twentieth century to the present.   The study opens with a comprehensive introduction that examines the concept of information overload from a variety of perspectives. While Stephens admits to reservations about the term, citing the “antidemocratic attitude toward the production of information” and the “rejection of popular and mass culture” it might be taken to imply (16), he argues convincingly that it captures a widespread feeling and is therefore a useful tool for cultural inquiry. Stephens defines information by distinguishing it from knowledge, which involves understanding, on the one hand and from data, which can be meaningless, on the other. He points out that anxieties about information overload are almost as old as literacy itself but have exponentially increased in recent decades, changing human behavior in general and cultural production in particular (16). The Introduction contextualizes the concept in related debates around issues like the archival dimension of poetry, the role of information technology and digital interfaces, and the economy and pathology of attention. Stephens approaches these issues in a thoughtful, nuanced manner. Both optimistic and skeptical voices on the abundance of information and its social and psychological effects are taken into account.   The historical survey opens with a chapter on Gertrude Stein, whose psychological studies with William James and Hugo von Münsterberg acquainted her with the potential problems of information overload at an early point. The question of whether modernization requires a new kind of attention can be traced throughout her oeuvre, and Stephens identifies various answers to this question. On the one hand, Stein resisted the “pathologization of...

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