Style and Technique

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

Carter turned out an immense body of work in her fifty-one years: short stories; novels; radio, screen, and stage plays; poetry; children’s stories; essays; and an opera libretto. She wrote history and painted and taught. She was well read in Western and world literature. She was influenced by French Symbolists and Dadaists and social theorists such as Michel Foucault. She wrote realistic fiction, speculative fantasy, and gothic short stories, and she famously deconstructed folktales. In her work one might encounter ordinary people, flamboyant hippies, sociopathic killers, cowboys, vampire descendants of Vlad the Impaler, and many versions of Cinderella, Red Riding Hood, and both Beauty and the Beast.

Salman Rushdie has described Carter’s writing style, with its verbal pyrotechnics, as that of a tightrope walker, often swaying but seldom falling. Her prose can be stark and precise or lush and baroque. It is always clear and compelling. Even in the midst of the most dazzling of her verbal fireworks, she never forgets the reader and always remembers that she is first of all a storyteller. Her imagery is powerful, and her writing has a visual, often sensual, intensity.

One often hears the echoes of other writers and genres in Carter’s work. In “Flesh and the Mirror” she positions her writing in relation to the “I-novel” tradition in Japan, the intense first-person narratives often dealing with sexual obsession. In this literature, women often serve as one-dimensional objects, important only as they disturb the dense inner world of the self-absorbed male narrator. Carter shows her mastery of that mode and then deconstructs it. The narrator laughs at her own self-obsession.

Carter uses a chatty style that establishes a confiding tone with the readers, but the autobiographical tenor of this and her other Japanese stories can be misleading. She herself said they were true but not strictly accurate.