[REVIEW] Life is Short – Art is Shorter: In Praise of Brevity, edited by David Shields and Elizabeth Cooperman

Hawthorne Books
320 pages, $18.95

Review by Dinty W. Moore

Life Is Short Reviews Itself

[An assemblage of sentences lifted, Shields-style, from Life is Short – Art is Shorter: In Praise of Brevity.]

Objects are real. Details matter – to the devil and to everyone else, including and especially writers. It was assumed that I would have a fedora hat of my own by the time I was twelve years old. In honor of the hybrid spirit of the form, stage your prose poem in such a way that you get at what is to you one of life’s crucial paradoxes. You’re white an dewy an tickin like a time bomb an now’s the time to learn. This assignment is similar to the one for “Object,” except the image or object you choose is now in dynamic movement. In the middle of the ride something grazed my head. There was a metal bar hanging loose along one of the corners, and each time we whipped around it, the bar touched me. Write two stories or essays, each 500 words long, in which you first see through the male perspective, then through the female perspective. He tied the skin with twine over the body of the orphaned lamb so the grieving ewe would know the scent and let the orphaned lamb nurse. Who knows how to write about happiness? Then the children went to bed, or at least went upstairs, and the men joined the women for a cigarette on the porch, absently picking ticks engorged like grapes off the sleeping dogs. Your assignment, if you choose to accept it, is to write your version of a decades story or essay using Koestenbaum’s essay as a model. Too many of these sentences begin with the first-person singular pronoun. Later I may jazz up the syntax, falsify it. Collage: tiny paragraph-units working together to project a linear motion. Most nights he would stumble back drunk around midnight; some nights he was so drunk he would stumble through a neighbor’s back door, thinking he was home. In 1,000 words, create a fraudulent artifact; choose a documentary gesture you’re interested in, build in a theme and/or plot, and work to pull the thematic and/or narrative line through the story. The back cover of this issue consists of a newspaper photo of a man in a wedding gown slumped over on a toilet, his skin ribbed with gigantic blisters. He’s really destroyed, this guy. That doesn’t matter. What matters is writing about a work of art with so much love or hate or even ambivalence that you are revealed along with the work in question. When we looked at Jackie, while she was alive, we were doing something wicked. She knew it, and so did we. Write a 1,500-word personal essay in which you place yourself in harm’s way. I am self-centered. I am an exhibitionist. I pose whenever possible in public places. Assignment: Write your own guilty elegy: “bury someone”; watch someone die; tell the reader about someone who died. I pick up my wife. I look at my wife. I think how much harder it would be for me if she were this sick. You’re not giving a sermon or writing a legal brief. You’re writing a story; in 1,000 words or fewer, create a parable, but remember you’re writing for a reader in 2015: be funny, cryptic, self-ironizing, so brief as to appear modest. Then there was a knock on the door, I opened the door, and the new gerbil walked in. The children cheered wildly. In 1,500 words or fewer, try to write your own metaphysical contemplation, a statement of your own “philosophy of life.” Say you have seen something. You have seen an ordinary bit of what is real, the infinite fabric of time that eternity shoots through, and time’s soft-skinned people working and dying under slowly shifting stars. Then what?


Dinty W. Moore is author of Dear Mister Essay Writer Guy: Advice and Confessions on Writing, Love, and Cannibals as well as the memoir Between Panic & Desire. A professor of nonfiction writing at Ohio University, Moore lives in Athens, Ohio, and is deathly afraid of polar bears.

  • Nina Gaby

    gasp=short amazed breaths