Water in the SandnRaymond Carver: W^/[)at We TalknAbout When We Talk About Love;nAlfred A. Knopf; New York.nJohn Gardner: The Art of Living andnOther Stories; Alfred A. Knopf; NewnYork.nAmos Oz: Where the Jackals Howl andnOther Stories; Harcourt Brace Jovanovich;nNew York.nby Robert C. Steensman1 he short story is a relatively newngenre, but in the last century the morenformulaic short fiction of the mid-19thncentury has evolved into a freer form thatnat times bears little resemblance to itsnforemnners. Edgar Allan Poe, reviewingnHawthorne’s Twice-Told Tales in 1842,nbelieved that the tale (he didn’t use thenterm short story) should achieve a “certainnunique or single effect” throughn”one pre-conceived design.” For Poeneverything—plot, character, language—nmust be carefully selected and integrated.nAs perhaps the first theoretician ofnthe short story, Poe of course failed to anticipatenits complex potential and his insistencenupon the single effect did muchnto encourage the rise of the commercialnshort story so dear to American magazinenpublishers.nThe work of Gogol, Turgenev, Chekhov,nFlaubert, Maupassant, James,nCrane and London over the next 75 yearsnmoved the short story closer to the “slicenof life” advocated by realists and naturalists.nThese writers, and James in particular,ninsisted that the author must portraynlife directly and intensely. James mightnwell have echoed Chekhov’s assertionnthat “The aim of fiction is absolute andnhonest truth,” while at the same timenrecognizing something of the potentialnin Maupassant’s observation that “Ourneyes, our ears, our sense of smell, of taste,nDr. Steensma is professor of English atnthe University of Utah.n»21nChronicles of Culturendiffering from one person to another,ncreate as many tmths as there are mennupon the earth.” As the genre developed,nmost of the great talents werendrawn to it at one time or another, eachncreating characters and themes “sonstrangely, fascinatingly particular, andnyet so recognizably general,” asjames remarkednof Turgenev’s work. Because ofnits wide appeal in its various forms tondifferent audiences, the short storynmaintains its vitality while the novelnoften sinks into sensationalism, banalitynor obscurity. The short story is also flexible,nreadily adaptable to different ap-n”Carver not only enchants, he convinces.nproaches in plot, characterization, themenand symbolism. Writers have successfiallynemployed it in the gothic, romantic,nrealistic, naturalistic and impressionisticnmodes. Something of this flexibilityncan be seen in the new collections ofnJohn Gardner, Raymond Carver andnAmos Oz.nKji the three Gardner is certainly thenmost widely known, having publishednsix novels, two volumes of short stories,nan epic poem, a biography of Chaucer,nseveral collections of fairy tales andnjuvenile stories, and four scholarly booksnon fiction and medieval literature—allnsince 1970. His newest. The Art of living,nis a collection often stories, several ofnwhich were previously published in prestigiousnmagazines. Each is the kind ofnstory that appeals to the sophisticated audiencenby providing something for everyone—andash of local color, a touch ofnsymbolism, a few delicate ambiguities, antaste of childhood innocence.nGardner is at his best when he dealsnwith basic issues—love, death, elementalnhuman relationships—and avoids thenheavy symbolism which sometimesncreeps into his work. Among the storiesnin this group, the best are those concernednwith recognizable human beingsnnnand problems; Gardner examines themnwith insight and sensitivity but withoutnthe strata of psychiatric claptrap thatnburden so much modern fiction. “Redemption”nexplores the reactions of anfamily to the death of a son in a farm accident.n”Nimram” is the story of a famousnand sophisticated symphony conductornwho learns something about himself andnthe world from a terminally ill young girlnwho sits beside him on a Los Angeles-nChicago flight; his own facile view of lifenis strangely altered by the girl’s physicalnfragility and her timidly expressednreligion. In “Come on Back,” set in mraln— TimenNew York, Gardner evokes childhood asnseen by the narrator nearly half a centurynlater; the family stories, the Welsh songfest,nthe wake after the suicide of an unclenare all photographed in the soft focusnof remembered experience gently tintednby nostalgia and love. But when Gardnernventures into the symbolic or the comic,nhe doesn’t do as well. “The Joy of thenJust,” intended perhaps to satirize a certainnkind of ««co^»/«’religiosity, fails toncome off; in “Vlemk the Box-Painter”n(which runs to about one-third of thenentire volume), “The Music Lover”nand “The Art of Living,” Gardner losesnhis reader in the thickets of modish symbolismnand pretentious philosophicalndiscussions.nWhat We Talk About When We TalknAbout Love is Raymond Carver’s thirdnbook in five years. These seventeennstories, most of them published earlier innquarterlies, might well be viewed as disintermentsnof the buried life, a series ofndreary insights into the lives of a bunch ofnlosers, some of them pointless, most ofnthem dealing with routine, joyless sexualninfidelities. Carver’s characters driftnwithout any sense of past, present ornfuture. Whatever emotions they shownare as contrived and unconvincing as onen