Short Story Cycles

Redeeming the Short Story Cycle: Evolution of One of the Last Literary Genres

Every artistic genre, over a long enough period of time, can and inevitably will evolve. In music, the guitar, once a rhythm instrument playing a purely back-up role in gospel groups, has become the driving force in contemporary acts. Andy Warhol, perhaps believing there were enough portraits of birds and depictions of children playing with dogs, decided to reproduce images of popular culture, giving birth to an entire new genre: pop art.

Literature has seen the same sort of movement, in many of its subgenres. I chiefly concern myself with the evolution of the short story, into the relatively new genre of the short story cycle. Boiled down to its simplest terms, a short story cycle is a collection of short works that can be read individually, independent of one another; or together, in sequence—cover to cover, as it were—for a single, unifying experience.

Some authors, such as Sherwood Anderson and, to a lesser degree, J.D. Salinger, have experimented with this genre, but no writers have, to date, attempted to create the ultimate short story cycle: the pieces of which can exist completely independently, with no hint that they are part of a larger whole; but which also, when put together, form a novel, with a single, overarching narrative.

I begin my exploration with a short introduction to the genre of the short story, from its early incarnations to the first attempts at creating cycles. From there, I briefly dissect the attempts of a few authors to consciously create short story cycles—focusing primarily on their (quite noble) shortcomings. I then lay out for the reader the framework for my own attempt at creating a short story cycle.

The bulk of this work, though, is, of course, my personal foray into the genre. My narrative concerns four principal characters, and the stories cycle through their respective points of view, in a 1-2-3-4, 1-2-3-4 format. Collected here are the first six stories in the cycle. The reader is introduced to each of the principals, in the first four stories; and with the last two, the audience is able to see how the sequence will progress overall.

I do not view the writers who have worked in this genre before me as failures; rather, I see them as residing within particular spots of an evolutionary scale. Subsequently, it is not my desire to revolutionize a genre, but to simply occupy my own, personal spot on that same scale.

from: Mattern, Joshua J.W., “Redeeming the Short Story Cycle: Evolution of One of the Last Literary Genres” (2009). Theses, Dissertations and Capstones. 721. 

Note: This Master Thesis contains a full text short story cycle which is available for reading online.

Direct link to thesis (including stories):


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