I’m spending a week on Kelly Link stories this semester, and looking at contemporary literature always poses a challenge. I’ve taught my students to read stories from an academic angle, to conduct secondary research, and to produce their own scholarship on a topic. But when they read a story that is so shiny, funny, and weird, as, say, “Some Zombie Contingency Plans,” most of them will simply enjoy the ride, experience the story. Of course, this is wonderful, but I also need them to think critically about the text. I’ve urged them, in their readings of Link’s stories, to consider the nature of narrative and the nature of the storyteller–how we create stories as a society and also individually just to get through the day, also how narratives may be in competition with one another. Connected here, as well, is the larger question of why we need narrative, what inside a narrative creates resonance that draws us in, comforts us. It’s obvious to my students why the Igbo in Achebe’s work “need” narratives in their society or why Langston Hughes’s work is important to our nation.
“But what about a story written now that fits you now? What about the now?” I ask. They don’t know; they don’t know about the now…and I hope there is more introspection going on in that sea of faces than they let on.
In “Do We Need Stories?”, in The New York Review of Books, Tim Parks addresses the impetus to creative a narrative of self, the position of the novel, and the notion of need.
Maura Kelly, in The Atlantic, makes an argument for a Slow Books Movement.