I've taken more than my share of swipes at The New Yorker on this blog, but lately it appears that "times they are a-changing." A good bud of mine passes his New Yorkers to me at the gym, and I trade him my New York Review of Books. Recently, I'd actually describe about four out of five of the stories I read in that venerable periodical as "memorable." Quite a change from what I've read there in the past.
It started, for me at least, in the April issue with "Tiny Feast" a story by Chris Adrian about a faeries who adopt a mortal child who is dying from leukemia. It reminded me of Lorrie Moore's "People Like That..." only with a fantastic twist that made it quite endearing. Everyone I mentioned it to was enthralled by it. Other memorables were a Twilight's Zone type story by J.G. Ballard about a man who wakes to find himself the only person left alive in London; a wonderful story by Salmon Rushdie about two elderly Indian men; and, speaking of Indians––the American kind––Sherman Alexie had a story in the August 10 issue, but then I rarely find his stories disappointing.
Part of why these stories seem so vibrant could be that many are by foreign writers like a woman named Ludmilla Petrushevskaya's story about a father who steals his daughter's body from the morgue and takes it to the hospital. This sounds morbid but turned out to be a charming piece of magical realism. Then there was the very haunting "The Tiger's Wife" billed as debut fiction by Tea Obreht.
So what does this all mean? Could it be that all the complaints have gotten through? No, I'm not suggesting anyone from The New Yorker reads this blog, but I'm far from the only one who has been complaining. Or could it be due to the success online publications have enjoyed in recent years at the expense of print literary journals? There's no doubt online readers prefer stories with a little more punch––or at least a real ending.
The New Yorker isn't alone. Narrative, the mostly online publication, publishes many of the same names who have been showing up in The New Yorker and other top-tiers for years, but the stories are much more interesting.
Might we dare to hope that we have turned a corner? Is the era of dull literary fiction finally dead? Has the style over substance philosophy finally petered out in favor of a well written story with killer similes that happens to also be good?
I guess it remains to be seen, but the signs are positive.