Charles McGrath opens his review of The Anchor Book of New American Short Stories with a paradox: that the short story is all but dead as a commercial medium and at the same time is the one form that gets taught to aspiring writers. But his survey of what sounds like a distinctly un-minimalist collection leads to a more important oddity—that in the absence of a short story market, the writers in the anthology have returned to seemingly market-friendly forms:
These and similar stories are so energetic, so filled with invention, that they seem almost hyperactive; they also seem to assume a reader whose taste and interests have been formed by television and by the movies as much as by literature. Yet in their gimmickiness and occasional luridness, their jokiness, their quickness of pace, their way of developing a single clever idea, there's something old-fashioned about them too—a trace of the pulp magazines, say, or of some of H. G. Wells's tales.
For most of the last century, short-story writers in English—or the great ones anyway; writers like Hemingway, O'Hara, Salinger, Cheever—were busy dismantling the Victorian machinery of the story, dispensing with surprise endings, for example, and eventually with beginnings too, and even with plot itself, to create a kind of story that was deeper, quieter, moodier: the kind of story that on the evidence of this anthology, many of these "new" writers don't quite trust anymore.
Whole review (free reg. req.) here. There still seems to be a portion of experimental writing here, my favorite example being from Joe Wendroth's story "Letters to Wendy's": "It is rare for a baby to be so bad that it is sentenced to be hanged, and even rarer for the sentence to be carried out, and yet, when a baby is hung, what a pleasant surprise it is for the passer-by."
But it's not much of a surprise that newer writers are in a hurry to dispense with Chekhovian epiphany stories, which for several decades now have been as hidebound and predictable as the narrative stories they displaced. When I come across a one-joke story, I always remind myself, "At least it's got one joke." Still, it's doubtful that this kind of development will mean much in the face of such a tiny mainstream market for short fiction. An old OpEd headline from The Onion (which I'm paraphrasing because it doesn't seem to be in the archives anymore) said it all:
"My Short Fiction Will Give Meaning To A Confused World."