Short Story Cycles

Yearning, Frustration, and Fulfillment: The Return Story in Olive Kitteridge and Kissing in Manhattan

First paragraphs:

The use of absence in the short story cycle is an overlooked but vital element of the genre.1 It contributes to the way that cycles can manipulate the focus in their stories, using developed patterns of absence to influence the reader’s response. The technique of the return story is identified by Gerald Lynch in his 2001 book The One and the Many: English-Canadian Short Story Cycles. He describes the return story as the final story in a cycle which returns it back to its origins, spiralling back in on itself to create a meaningful connection to its starting point, often by referencing characters and events which occur throughout the stories (32). Both Olive Kitteridge by Elizabeth Strout and Kissing in Manhattan by David Schickler are short story cycles which use absence to develop patterns to direct the focus back into the preceding stories through the contrast presented in the return story.

In relation to the structure of the short story cycle, I use the term “absence” to represent elements of the text which are not physically present but which, regardless of their lack of presence, have a noted and significant effect on the cycle as a whole. Absence functions both as an abstract concept that describes the interaction between the reader and elements that are left out of a text and also as a focus of the content of the stories. The cycles present characters who experience a void in life, and the stories describe the characters’ respective searches to fill these voids. The two cycles lend themselves to a study of absence within the genre because of this interaction between the structural absences and the absences presented in the content.

These absences create the affective experiences of yearning, frustration, and fulfillment for the reader. The absences construct these emotional reactions, which become affective reactions to the text. The repetition of this absence in both texts appears on the surface to be the factor which allows the cycles to influence the focus of the reader. However, this article explores the way that the pattern of absence is built up throughout the cycles to explain how it becomes so significant. When the return story is reached, the contrast created within it directs the focus back to the previous stories, effectively drawing together the individual stories so that they are conceived of as a cohesive whole.

From: Rebecca Cross, “Yearning, Frustration, and Fulfillment: The Return Story in Olive Kitteridge and Kissing in Manhattan“, Journal of the Short Story in English [En ligne], 66 | Spring 2016, mis en ligne le 01 mars 2018, consulté le 24 août 2022.


Olive Kitteridge entry on

Chris’ note: It might be worth looking into similarities between the impact of absences in short story cycles and Ernest Hemingway’s famous writing technique – the iceberg theory.


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