Ian Reid. The Short Story. London: Methuen, 1977.
The intrinsic `properties' of the short story have been in debate for well over a century, often to disparate opinion. Ian Reid however, presents an article that is balanced and unprejudiced, but that simultaneously allows his subtle opinions to be easily ascertained. His views are hospitable and refreshingly broadminded, allowing the reader to derive for himself the right `choice'.
Reid incorporates various opinions and approaches in his chapter concerning the `essential qualities' of shorter fiction writing. He is accommodating to the views of previous generations about the conventions of writing shorter fiction and how they began. The strict regimes pioneered by Brander Mathews and Edgar Allen Poe about 'unity of impression' are granted respect, but are gently revealed to be slightly out of date by today's artistic standards. Such limiting doctrines are neatly contrasted with examples of a more liberal approach, which have been equally successful, such as works by Kafka and Chekhov.
A factor covered by Reid is the `moment of crisis', which is manifested in different ways. One is the notion of the writer concentrating on ."..a single character in a single episode..." (56), revealing him at the climax rather than following his development in the tradition of the novel - such as in James Joyce's 'The Dead'. Yet Reid observes this is not a `concrete' rule. He suggests there are many successful examples where the character's personal crisis-point remains ambiguous, often made known only to the reader - inferring that it is not the event that is important, but rather the approach to it. He too notes that it is often the ambiguity of the short story that makes the impact, rather than following a regimental structure.
As Reid goes on to discuss the concept of `symmetry of design' - that a short story must be precise in the sequence of a clear beginning, middle and end, a concept so favoured by Poe - he surmises that there is no intrinsic rule to command this, and any other approach can be equally engaging. Reid recognises there is much to be said for careful plotting and the famous 'Final Twist`, but realises also the prominent qualities derived from the freedom of the open-ended narrative. Essentially it is clear that Reid regards each development in the history of shorter fiction writing with respect, but also as a stepping stone toward a freedom that allows a more diverse genre of short stories to be created.
Reid`s support for freedom of creativity, with his method of informing the reader of any relevant history on a particular conservative approach, before subtly refuting it with a more liberal offering - is a consistent presence. Although he appreciates the doctrines of writers such as Poe, there is a hint at the opinion that they are now practically...