The Short Review

shining the spotlight on short story collections

The Ambition of the Short Story

A wonderful quirky essay on short stories which hits the nail exactly on the head in the New York Times by Steven Millhauser (whose collection, Dangerous Laughter, we recently reviewed on The Short Review)

The short story — how modest in bearing! How unassuming in manner! It sits there quietly, eyes lowered, almost as if trying not to be noticed. And if it should somehow attract your attention, it says quickly, in a brave little self-deprecating voice alive to all the possibilities of disappointment: “I’m not a novel, you know. Not even a short one. If that’s what you’re looking for, you don’t want me.” Rarely has one form so dominated another.

But Millhauser knows that the short story has more up its tiny sleeve:

The short story believes in transformation. It believes in hidden powers. The novel prefers things in plain view. It has no patience with individual grains of sand, which glitter but are difficult to see. The novel wants to sweep everything into its mighty embrace — shores, mountains, continents. But it can never succeed, because the world is vaster than a novel, the world rushes away at every point. The novel leaps restlessly from place to place, always hungry, always dissatisfied, always fearful of coming to an end — because when it stops, exhausted but never at peace, the world will have escaped it. The short story concentrates on its grain of sand, in the fierce belief that there — right there, in the palm of its hand — lies the universe.

And he ends on a triumphant note which is so very welcome after all these articles trumpeting the “death of the short story” and the “poor short story”, victim of the cruel publishing world:

The short story apologizes for nothing. It exults in its shortness. It wants to be shorter still. It wants to be a single word. If it could find that word, if it could utter that syllable, the entire universe would blaze up out of it with a roar. That is the outrageous ambition of the short story, that is its deepest faith, that is the greatness of its smallness.

Click here for the full piece, The Ambition of the Short Story –

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2 comments on “The Ambition of the Short Story

  1. LiteraryMinded
    October 7, 2008

    My god what an article! ‘…every part of the world, however small, contains the world entirely’. I just adore it. I may have to link it from my blog soon too!Thanks Tania :-)Angela


  2. kamagra
    May 18, 2011

    This a comment about the title, I actually prefer a long one, I had a very old friend that travel for all the the world and i write about it, he already die, but I still wonder If I already have to publish it as a book.


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This entry was posted on October 7, 2008 by in short stories, steven millhauser, the short review.
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