Stupid Little Realization Stories

The term New Yorker Stories has become a generic one in my family for stories that may or may not have actually been printed in the New Yorker magazine, but that start and end at apparently arbitrary points and vary in tone from glum to worse.

One weekend last spring I was re-reading Alice Munro’s collection of short stories, Too Much Happiness, in preparation for a group discussion. When I took a break my wife asked me what the stories were like. After I described one she said, “Oh, you mean they’re New Yorker Stories.”

Later that same weekend I ran across the below from Allison Lurie’s review of Julian Barnes’ latest in the NYRB:

“Literary fiction, however, now tends to conform to Tom Stoppard’s addition to Miss Prism’s Rule, first stated in Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead (1966): “The bad end unhappily, the good unluckily. That is what tragedy means.” The scale of the tragedy, of course, varies widely. When we begin a story by a known and admired writer in a known and admired journal, we do not always expect a major disaster, but we know that something unpleasant is going to happen to the main characters, and/or that they will end up understanding something unpleasant about themselves, their friends or family, or the world in general. (Years ago, a Harvard student called Speed Lamkin described the latter tales to me as “stupid little realization stories.”)”

This seemed to be a most satisfactory description of the New Yorker Story.   The only opportunity for improvement would be to replace the phrase “known and admired journal” with some more explicit reference to the New Yorker.