Short Story Cycles

Story Cycles (chapter from American Literature in Transition 1990-2000)

From the first paragraph:

In 2001, James Nagel observed that “never has the genre of the short-story cycle been used with greater force or variety than in the American fiction of the 1980s and 1990s, when it became the genre of choice for emerging writers from a variety of ethnic and economic backgrounds.” More recently, Jeff Birkenstein has also acknowledged the importance of ethnic diversity for an understanding of the resurgence of the short story cycle in the last quarter of the century – he quotes J. Gerald Kennedy on the need to represent “characters living on two sides of the hyphen” – but sees this as part of a changing representation of the idea of community over the last hundred years. In building upon these observations, this chapter does not propose to revisit the definitional debates that surround the short story cycle or the other synonyms that have been suggested for the genre: short story sequence, composite novel, short story novel. Instead, it focuses on what the genre achieved in the 1990s via a series of recurring tropes, such as history, memory, community, race, and sexuality, at the same time as a post–WW2 consensus on the meaning of these concepts declined, in part, because of developments such as multiculturalism.

This chapter is from: March-Russell, Paul (2017) Story Cycles. In: Burn, Stephen J., ed. American Literature in Transition: 1990-2000. American Literature in Transition . Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, pp. 154-168. ISBN 978-1-107-13601-4. E-ISBN 978-1-108-54849-6. 

Direct link to chapter: (pre-print version)

Short story cycles discussed in the chapter (and link to their entry on

The Things They Carried – Tim O’Brien

A Good Scent from a Strange Mountain – Robert Olen Butler

Love Medicine – Louise Erdrich

The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven – Alexie Sherman

The Safety of Objects – A.M. Homes

Brief Interview with Hideous Men – David Foster Wallace


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