Long Made Short

(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

Following the critical success of his fifth novel, FROG, a finalist for both the National Book Award and the PEN/Faulkner prize, Stephen Dixon returns to his more customary short story form in LONG MADE SHORT, his tenth collection. The twelve stories seem not so much fiction per se as narrative oxymorons: banal and bizarre, low-key and intense, seemingly conventional and wackily innovative.

The stories do not so much develop as accumulate, gaining momentum as they follow an inexorable logic all their own. Weirdly affecting and oddly funny, LONG MADE SHORT seems the kind of fiction Ring Lardner would have written had he hung around the Johns Hopkins Writers Workshop where John Barth taught, where Stephen Dixon teaches. The stories combine the immediacy of oral storytelling, cartoonlike flatness and Raymond Carver’s spare-sparer-sparest vocabulary with Donald Barthelme’s quirky urban imagination (true even of the stories set in the countryside), Stanley Elkin’s verbal energy, industrial-size paragraphs worthy of Franz Kafka (admittedly the one weighing in at twenty pages is unusually long), and openings just enough askew to trop some wire in the reader’s mind.

Yet the fiction is more than the sum of these parts, for Dixon is a master of the no-win situation. The narrator of “The Rare Muscovite,” for example, already a bit restive as he plays the part of excess baggage while his wife does research in Moscow for her latest book, gives...

(The entire section is 503 words.)