The Stories of Stephen Dixon (Magill Book Reviews)
Although Stephen Dixon has published fourteen previous novels and collections of short stories, he is not well known among the general reading public. Most of his previous short story collection have been published by The Johns Hopkins University, where he is a teacher, and have not received wide distribution outside the academic community. Moreover, many of his stories seem to be academic experiments in narrative technique, as he explores what some critics have called “experimental realism”—a method by which the most absurd events are described in the most matter-of-fact language.
Many of the male protagonists in Dixon’s stories are unable to maintain relationships or to express their feelings and thus seem less like real people than two-dimensional figures embodying the typical modern view that relationships are, by their very nature transitory and temporary. For example, in “Last May,” a man begins a relationship with a woman while both are visiting dying parents in the hospital, but he has no interest in the relationship once the parents die. Such temporary affiliations are pushed to absurd extremes in “Love Has Its Own Action,” in which a man moves from one affair to another with such increasing speed that he barely has time to meet one woman before he runs off with another.
In his later stories, however, particularly in stories that make up his episodic novel FROG, a finalist for both the National Book Award and...
(The entire section is 325 words.)
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The Stories of Stephen Dixon (Magill's Literary Annual 1991-2005)
The most frequent terms used to characterize the short fiction of Stephen Dixon are “experimental,” “fabulous,” “quirky,” and “tour de force.” Previous writers with whom he has been compared include Franz Kafka and Samuel Beckett. Certainly after reading the sixty stories in this collection of previously published works, one is aware of having visited a fantastic world that, like other worlds created in the best of fabulous fiction, seems both alien and familiar at once. In his fourteen previous novels and short-story collections, Dixon, who also teaches at The Johns Hopkins University, has quietly gone about the business of experimenting with a wide range of narrative devices and fictional techniques. Yet the problem with many of his stories is that, as imaginative and inventive as they may be, they largely seem to be only that—bloodless experiments with devices and techniques rather than real human events.
Many of Dixon’s stories are experiments with traditional narrative structures. For example, “Man of Letters” makes use of the epistolary form: A man named Newt, who features in a number of Dixon stories, writes a series of letters to a woman he has been seeing. Although he begins the first letter with the sentence, “I don’t want to see you anymore,” by the time he has verbally examined the relationship and justified his decision by writing a whole stack of letters, he ends by saying, “No matter what I’ll be seeing you...
(The entire section is 2101 words.)