A collection of 21 years of Playboy’s College Fiction writers, these short stories span from 1986 to 2006.
It Is a Playboy Contest – what do you expect?
Every one of us has a short-story writer inside us. It is, after all, an easy task – we have one episode, few characters and good language to make it work. There are numerous personal blogs dedicated to such stories. Despite the overload , very few stay in mind. Off the top of my head, I can think of the classics like The Lady or the Tiger, The gift of Magi and The Most Dangerous Game, and the recent ones like Creative Writing published in New Yorker. The line demarcating a standard short story from an unforgettable one is a right mix of innovation and intrigue.
I was not aware that the Playboy Magazine published clean and critically acclaimed fictional stories. I was even more surprised to know that writers like Gabriel Garcia Marquez and Woody Allen have been featured in the magazine at least once. So, when I chanced upon a collection of College fiction Collection, I was very excited and couldn't wait to start.
The forward of the book reads thus:
Writing a great short story is like telling a good joke at a bar. You have to get in and get out with perfect timing. The least hesitation or nuance in the tone of voice can make the whole thing fall flat, especially if the joke sucks in the first place. There is little room for languorous description in a short story. There is no time for lengthy exposition, no place for detailed background information and digression. The characters may be compelling enough to carry a novel, but in the rigors of the story form the protagonist must be involved in only one perfect, complete episode.
I cannot agree more with that, but I t hink the author missed one word here – One perfect, complete and interesting episode. You can find no fault in the language, sentence formations or even the style of writing – in fact, it is impeccable. One can see that this book houses a set of innovative writers – however, story tellers, they are not.
I could not help but wonder why I could not like the stories, which were, after all, Contest Winners – selected out of 1000 entries. I came up with some theories on that.
- There were four stories (out of the published twenty-one) which were marginally interesting (“Que Linda Takes the Rite Aid”, “1%”, “Fishboy” and “Gerald’s Monkey”) and all of them are post-1990 entries. It made me wonder if there was a disconnect because the rest were before my time. If that is indeed the case, I will go out on a limb to say that if a story is going to affect only the current generation, then it is not much of a story at all. I am sure that Kalki and Edgar Allan Poe will be read (and re-read) by generations after ours.
- Being published by Playboy, it may have catered to the guy’s mentality more. Again, I can only scoff at the idea, for though all the stories were filled with testosterone (guns and girls and general stupidity), they were way too flat (for lack of a better term).
- The final assumption is that considering the contents of the book, the non-exciting and dull narration would have been a welcome change.
The last theory seems plausible, and I can definitely live with that. By all means, these critically acclaimed stories may make for a good read while leafing through the contents of an adult magazine. As a standalone collection of short stories, however, they are woefully inadequate.
The story lines are innovative and the language is impressive, but the stories themselves are neither interesting nor intriguing.