The literary magazine "McSweeney's" is re-defining the US short story. Its editor, Dave Eggers, says it is not ironic. Yeah, right.by Jonathon Keats / November 20, 2003 / Leave a comment
Published in November 2003 issue of Prospect Magazine
Book: McSweeney’s Mammoth Treasury of Thrilling Tales
Author: eds Dave Eggers, Michael Chabon
Price: (Hamish Hamilton, ?14.99)
To the extent that culture is an expression of geography, American fiction writers of the late 20th century have been ill-advised to anoint the Iowa writing programme their finishing school of choice. It has rendered the short story form as flat as the midwestern landscape and as homogenous as its populace.
As a release from such prosaic terrain, American readers – especially those who once identified themselves as members of Generation X – have, in the last couple of years, embraced a literary magazine called Timothy McSweeney’s Quarterly Concern. Under the editorship of Dave Eggers, notorious author of A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius, McSweeney’s has published excerpts from an encyclopedia of a make-believe civilisation, new versions of classic stories by Franz Kafka and Sherwood Anderson, and a whole issue intended to be read to the accompaniment of a soundtrack by They Might be Giants. The popularity of McSweeney’s has attracted name-brand authors including AM Homes, Susan Minot and Rick Moody, and has propelled the San Francisco-based publishing company beyond periodicals into the book business. Posing as a hip antithesis to Random House and Cond? Nast, McSweeney’s affords accidental bestsellers such as Michael Chabon the opportunity to reclaim their street credibility, and even gives habitual potboilers like Michael Crichton the opportunity to appear literary by association.
Both Chabon and Crichton, as it happens, are in McSweeney’s Mammoth Treasury of Thrilling Tales (the former serving as guest editor), which is technically issue ten of the magazine, although publication in Britain by Penguin, between dustjacketed hard covers, has impelled booksellers to shelve it as an anthology. That ambiguity, the tendency toward small-scale anarchy, is characteristic of McSweeney’s, and represents what is best about the enterprise. The trouble – with the Mammoth Treasury and McSweeney’s in general – is to be found, however, between the covers.