Icicles by Cynthia

Clarence Brown

  • The Stories of Vladimir Nabokov edited by Dmitri Nabokov
    Knopf, 659 pp, $35.00, October 1995, ISBN 0 394 58615 8

That Plato was by nature a short-story writer, not a novelist, seems clear. Walt Whitman was a novelist, Chopin a writer of short stories. Michelangelo was a novelist, Picasso a writer of short stories. Whatever the medium, most artists would seem to favour a breathing period that is either long or short. Chekhov, Borges, Flannery O’Connor, Raymond Carver were short-story writers. Dostoevsky, Faulkner and (horrified as he would be to find himself with this lot) Vladimir Nabokov were novelists. It your destiny lies in one form, the other is seldom hospitable. O’Connor’s short fiction was the inspired work of one born to the genre; her novels seem grimly willed achievements, determined to last 300 pages or die trying. The short story is notoriously even more unforgiving of those whose ambition cannot abandon its vaster longings. Take the muse of the short story out for an evening only if you are willing to rivet your concentration on her every velleity; she will repay the roving eye with instant annihilation.

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