at The Morning News. It's a fascinating & quite revealing interview, go take a look if you're still trying to work out what you think about Mitchell's fiction. He says one thing I completely disagree with, and that actually helps me articulate an aspect of my own (relative) lack of sympathy for his fictional practice:
I think all novels are actually compounded short stories. It’s just the borders get so porous and so squished up that you no longer see them, but I think they are there. And I do structure my novels in that way. One of the commandments of Black Swan Green was to write a novel made of chapters that are theoretically extractable short stories.
All novels are not actually compounded short stories! In fact I feel that the texture of the short story and the novel are both in theory and in practice almost always quite different; Joyce Carol Oates is an interesting writer to look at in this respect, and a perceptive commenter on such differences as well. But Jonathan Lethem could do you just as well--he writes great short stories and great novels & they're quite different from each other in terms of the texture of the language, the pacing and so forth. I am out of sympathy with something about much or even most short fiction (I think it's related to the fact of being a fast reader); I do now & then read a collection of stories that makes sense to me (I really, really liked Nathan Englander's a few years ago for instance; and of course the short stories of Chekhov, James, etc. etc.), but I find the appeal of the novel quite different and (for me personally) much more powerful. It's partly a question of momentum, and that's what Black Swan Green lacks--a good sense of where it's going. Even if you prefer, as I do, character- and voice-driven fiction to plot-driven, it matters that there should be a destination, and that the momentum should be built up over several hundred pages.
One other moment in the conversation confirmed my existing impression (Birnbaum, it is possible I am being quite unfair to your interviewee, and you must correct me in the comments if Mitchell was actually, oh, I don't know, making silly hand gestures and a funny face to show that he was making fun of himself) that Birnbaum has a better sense of humor than Mitchell:
RB: So sitting here in your youthful late 30s, you have scoped ahead in your life to think that your writing is—everyone says they can’t do anything else.
DM: No I really can’t. I know everyone else says “I really can’t do anything else” as well, but I love it. I absolutely love it.
RB: Everybody doesn’t say that. Is it hard for you?
DM: No. Yes and no. No, in that nothing is more fulfilling. Maybe I enjoy sex more. But that only lasts for an hour or so.
RB: Good for you.
"Maybe I enjoy sex more. But that only lasts for an hour or so": it's like those tips they have in management self-help books for job interviews ("What's your biggest weakness?" "I'm a workaholic and perfectionist, and I become obsessive about doing everything to a very high standard"). I am completely shuddering in horror when I read this! However I expect I am being quite unfair....