‘True Short Story’ by Ali Smith

Ali Smith is one of the greats, and it would be ironic if in my anthology of Big Subjects, I did not include as one of the Big Subjects the art of the short story itself. Of course, ‘True Short Story’ is not so much about the art (or history) of the short story. At least, it is at the surface, and then just beyond that it is about cancer, and just beyond that again it is about women’s healthcare. It is about more besides. The more you read it, the more it unfurls. Smith is a consummate stylist, and even though this story is based around a series of conversations – had, eavesdropped, and conducted via voicemail back-and-forths – it is still no easy trick to have a story feel like a conversation between friends. The story ends with a series of paraphrased quotes from the great and good about the art of short stories, that also seem to accumulate into something pertaining to the meaning of life, and ways in which to live a good one. One of them is from Grace Paley, and it says “she chose to write only short stories in her life because art is too long and life is too short”.

First published in The First Person, Pantheon, 2008. Available to read on Prospecthere

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