Short Story Cycles

Rubik, the Short Story Cycle, and the Digital Age

In the 21st century, the demands of digital presence and the distractions of the internet simultaneously challenge writers wishing to represent contemporary life and threaten the attention readers are willing to give to literature. In this paper I argue that the short story cycle is a literary form that is capable of representing digital life and does so in a way that extends and expands the way that we read. I take Elizabeth Tan’s 2017 book Rubik as my case study and my analysis focuses on the way Tan uses two key features of the short story cycle form to represent and simulate life in the digital age. I begin with a discussion of how Tan uses the multiplicity of the cycle form to demonstrate the polymediation of life in the developed world and that the use of discrete, separate stories in the cycle allows for switches in voice and style which not only simulates the polyphony of digital life but also encourages us to contrast the different ways individuals use mobile technology to manage their lives. Following this, I demonstrate how Tan uses the connectedness of the cycle form to create hyperreal nested narratives in Rubik, highlighting the blurring of the boundaries between online and offline, between reality and simulation, and in doing so encourages active participation from the reader.

from: DARRAGH, EMMA (2022): “Rubik, the Short Story Cycle, and the Digital Age” in TEXT Special Issue 69: Digital Realism, December 2022.


Rubik’s entry at


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