We Others: New and Selected Stories
“A Protest Against the Sun”
“A Protest Against the Sun” is from Steven Millhauser’s We Others: New and Selected Stories (Knopf, 2011). Millhauser is the author of four previous collections of stories and seven novels, including Martin Dressler, which won the 1996 Pulitzer Prize For Fiction. His stories are regularly published in The New Yorker and elsewhere. Millhauser teaches at Skidmore College.
Jonathan Lethem wrote about the collection in the New York Times: I’m a Steven Millhauser fan. Three of the four books from which the “selected” stories in “We Others” were selected are sitting on my shelves; additional stories I’d already met in magazines. If this kind of a book is a story-writer’s crown, it’s also a Frankenstein’s monster, assembled from the bodies of others. This review, then, is its pale twin: My own New and Selected Feelings About Steven Millhauser, stitched together to resemble a book review. That Millhauser is a quiet, enigmatic master of the medium-long-to-long story.
Jim Shepard interviewed Millhauser in Bomb Magazine and he gave his views on the short story and the novella.
SHEPARD: Perhaps as much as any American writer I can think of, you’ve been drawn to the novella.
MILLHAUSER: Is it possible not to be drawn to the novella? Everything about it is immensely seductive. It demands the rigor of treatment associated with the short story, while at the same time it offers a liberating sense of expansiveness, of widening spaces. And it strikes me as having real advantages over its jealous rivals, the short story and the novel. The challenge and glory of the short story lie exactly there, in its shortness. But shortness encourages certain effects and not others. It encourages, for instance, the close-up view, the revelatory detail, the single significant moment. In the little world of the story, many kinds of desirable effect are inherently impossible – say, the gradual elaboration of a psychology, the demonstration of change over time. Think of the slowly unfolding drama of self-delusion and self-discovery in Death in Venice – a short story would have to proceed very differently.
And when the novella looks at the short story, to which it’s secretly akin, it says, with a certain cruelty, No, not for me this admirably exquisite, elegant, refined – perhaps overrefined? – delicately nuanced, perfect little world, whose perfection depends so much on artful exclusions. It says, Let me breathe! The attraction of the novella is that it lets the short story breathe. It invites the possibility of certain elaborations and complexities forbidden by a very short form, while at the same time it holds out the promise of formal perfection. It’s enough to make a writer dizzy with exhilaration.