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Jennifer Egan’s Twittered short story for The New Yorker is a Tour de Force

Haikus grip one end of the literary tiara, next to longer poems.  Sagas are at the other end, next to novels.  At the center, set slightly above the others, with its eye on all of them, is a well-crafted short story like the one Jennifer Egan has written.

Pulitzer-holding Jennifer Egan has published a long short story called “Black Box” in the current (June 4 & 11, 2012) New Yorker.  What I didn’t know when I read it is that it was published simultaneously on Twitter.  Concentrating on the 40-character limit, she whittled down the story.  She explains her ‘control and calibration’ in the link below her lines, below.

As in the ghazal poetry form, each short stanza is written to be part of the larger piece and to concurrently stand on its own, often aphoristically.  My fear is that all the talk about Twitter will overshadow the high quality of the piece.  Here is the first section/part/chapter, divided into six stanzas/paragraphs/tweets:

//People rarely look the way you expect them to, even when you’ve seen pictures. /

/The first thirty seconds in a person’s presence are the most important. /

/If you’re having trouble perceiving and projecting, focus on projecting. /

/Necessary ingredients for a successful projection: giggles; bare legs; shyness. /

/The goal is to be both irresistible and invisible. /

/When you succeed, a certain sharpness will go out of his eyes. //

Egan told the New Yorker that "she'd been pondering how to write fiction whose structure would lend itself to serialization on Twitter."  This is not a new idea, of course, but it's a rich one—because of the intimacy of reaching people through their phones, and because of the odd poetry that can happen in a hundred and forty characters. I found myself imagining a series of terse mental dispatches from a female spy of the future, working undercover by the Mediterranean Sea. I wrote these bulletins by hand in a Japanese notebook that had eight rectangles on each page. The story was originally nearly twice its present length; it took me a year, on and off, to control and calibrate the material into what is now "Black Box."


The strength of the story continues, even heightens, as it progresses.  The poetic quality of the hundred-and-forty character compression has brought forth a short story of almost unrivaled quality, Twitter or not.  I’m not surprised that, even with the story already in place, that her compression took a year.  It’s remarkable work.

Here’s the article from which her quote was drawn: http://news.yahoo.com/blogs/lookout/yorker-publish-jennifer-egan-short-story-twitter-185455795.html