One of the books I'm currently reading is the Collected Stories of Lydia Davis. Ms Davis is at the forefront of a certain type of short fiction which is gaining popularity among the literary journal set. I've read about 60 of her stories (they range in length from one sentence to thousands of words) and I believe I have figured out what Ms Davis is doing. I have discovered the key to the "Lydia Davis-style short story," and because I am a generous soul, I'm going to share that key with you guys.
How does a traditional story work? We're all familiar with the rising action/climax/falling action structure, right? It goes like this:
1. Introduce characters and problem to be solved.
2. Increase the severity of the problem.
3. Bring problem to a climax (a crisis point which must be resolved before anything else can happen).
4. Show how things are after crisis resolved.
That's your basic story, Ma'am. Short stories, in the search for brevity and power (because there's an idea that concentrating the story elements into the smallest possible space--which is to say, flash fiction--increases the power and impact of the story; I have doubts that this idea is actually true, but it's a common idea these days) often skip steps 1 and 4. The problem, characters and setting all come at once with no introduction. A common short story these days starts in medias res, with all the parts moving and the train about to crash, as it were. Then the train crashes and the resolution of the conflict is implied in the climax scene somehow (the author doesn't say it explicitly, but the reader can figure out that, for example, the guy will end up with the girl or whatever).
What Ms Davis' stories seem to do is jump with both feet into step 2, where the characters/crisis/setting (sometimes just character and crisis without setting) are shown, in the most arresting and concrete terms Ms Davis can muster. And then the story is over. The climax doesn't happen; the story begins and ends with the conflict/problem/crisis. The reader is made uncomfortable and then abandoned to sort out his discomfort.
In other words, Ms Davis writes premises without dramatic action. I may wonder aloud if I think these are properly stories. I think of a story as the telling of what happened. Possibly Ms Davis' art is to demonstrate or illustrate that conflict between people is generally never resolved, that it goes on and on with no relief and that, luv, is how life really works. I don't argue with that proposition, if that's what she's implying. I just don't know if that makes what Lydia Davis writes "stories."
I like reading them, whatever they are.
Anyway, do you think that the crisis/conflict in a work of fiction need be resolved in order for that piece of fiction to be a proper story?