The American Short Story Cycle

Jennifer J. Smith

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Constructs a history of community, family and temporality in American culture through one of the nation’s most popular, yet unrecognized genres

The American Short Story Cycle spans two centuries to tell the history of a genre that includes both major and marginal authors, from Washington Irving through William Faulkner to Jhumpa Lahiri. The short story cycle rose and proliferated because its form compellingly renders the uncertainties that emerge from the twin pillars of modern America culture: individualism and pluralism. Short story cycles reflect how individuals adapt to change, whether it is the railroad coming to the small town in Sherwood Anderson’s Winesburg, Ohio (1919) or social media revolutionizing language in Jennifer Egan’s A Visit from the Goon Squad (2010). Combining new formalism in literary criticism with scholarship in American Studies, this book gives a name and theory to the genre that has fostered the aesthetics of fragmentation, as well as recurrence, that characterise fiction today.

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Introduction: Forming Provisional Identities

1. Locating the Short Story Cycle 2. The Persistence of Place 3. Writing Time in Metaphors 4. Tracing New Genealogies 5. Resisting Identity 6. Atomic Genre

Coda. Novellas-in-Flash and Flash Cycles Selected American Short Story Cycles Works Cited

Jennifer Smith offers an excellent examination of the relationship between literary innovation and the experience of modernity. She persuasively demonstrates how the American short story cycle, from Anderson to Egan, has served as a vehicle for exploring the passage of time, the desire for nostalgia and the illusion of authenticity.
Paul March-Russell, University of Kent
Jennifer J. Smith is an Assistant Professor of English at Franklin College. Her research and teaching focus on American literature and culture from the nineteenth century to the present, with special interests in narrative theory, gender studies, and comparative ethnic approaches. Her work has appeared in Pedagogy, Short Fiction in Theory and Practice, and The Journal of the Short Story in English, as well as a number of essay collections.

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