Thursday, October 29, 2015

The Birth of “The New Yorker Story”

The following is drawn from “The 50s: The Story of a Decade,” an anthology of New Yorker articles, stories, and poems, published this week.

The fifties were a key decade in the evolution of American magazine fiction. Earlier in the century, there had been a large stable of magazines to which writers like Katherine Anne Porter and F. Scott Fitzgerald could make a fine living by selling short stories. Later in the century, The New Yorker was preeminent; placing a story in its pages was the grail of budding writers, the ultimate validation. By the end of the century, the magazine essentially had the commercial market for short fiction to itself.

It was also in the fifties that “the New Yorker story” emerged, quite suddenly, as a distinct literary genus. What made a story New Yorker was its carefully wrought, many-comma’d prose; its long passages of physical description, the precision and the sobriety of which created a kind of negative emotional space, a suggestion of feeling without the naming of it; its well-educated white characters, who could be found experiencing the melancholies of affluence, the doldrums of suburban marriage, or the thrill or the desolation of adultery; and, above all, its signature style of ending, which was either elegantly oblique or frustratingly coy, depending on your taste. 
Outside the offices of The New Yorker, its fiction editors were rumored to routinely delete the final paragraph of any story accepted for publication.

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