Susan Rukeyser: Short Stories Are a Digestible Meal

dinner at home
photo credit: Evan Bench via Flickr

The short story is a sit-down dinner. It opens with an amuse-bouche to stimulate the salivary glands. Then comes a parade of flavors and textures, each adding a layer of understanding: the bitter crunch of melancholy, velvety arousal, tough and chewy survival, sharp loss. The end will almost certainly be a blend of sour and sweet, as is life. It is not the novel, the various meals served over the course of a long holiday weekend. There is but one offering, each morsel carefully seasoned. A short story leaves us full and satisfied, for a while, as we digest and bid adieu to the characters who took on flesh and one by one sat down beside us at the table.

Flash leaves an aftertaste, which isn’t the same as satisfaction.

Flash fiction doesn’t have time for such ceremony. It is a half-chewed mouthful passed between strangers. It’s a story’s distillation drawn into a hypodermic and thumped into the bloodstream. Right to the point, no introductions. No explanations. Flash boils away everything but the essential. What remains is a hint of the larger meal. It is referential. It trusts the reader to understand the unsaid: what lives in the space between words. What lives in silence. Flash leaves an aftertaste, which isn’t the same as satisfaction.

Neither is superior. They address different needs. Sometimes the reader’s mood calls for a complex meal, served thoughtfully by an unhurried host. Sometimes she just needs something to smother the growl in her belly.

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