McCarthy: The point-of-view of the writer
On the surface, the issue seems silly - a work of fiction should be however long the writer wants.
But, Poe and McCarthy engage in an age old argument about the ideal length of a written work.
McCarthy sides with the classical Greek ideal that a work should be epic - long, thick, and time consuming. Think of the Odyssey and the Illiad.
I see his point in creating a work that is significant and powerful, time consuming in both writing and reading. The experience should be powerful enough to change the life of the writer and reader. That takes time.
One could also argue that it takes a long time to force a change in the reader, slowly moving her to new view points with powerful language and story.
Poe: The reader's experience
Poe held a passionate, opposite view that poetry and fiction should be short. The reader should be able to consume the entire piece in one sitting.
His reasoning was that if a reader picks up a work, but then sets it aside and returns later, power is lost. The momentum and flow are interrupted.
The reader must exit the world of the story or remain on the couch for a day. The emotions and thoughts are lost because of the time away from the story and characters. This minimizes the intensity of the narrative.
Your opinion: Long? Short? Other?
These are more than trivial opinions for Poe and McCarthy - they are philosophies about the ideal fiction as an art form. Both men devoted their lives to their philosophy: McCarthy never writes short stories, and Poe never wrote a novel.
What do you think?
I believe that both men produced great art, and I have experienced both of the readings they describe.
A long a beautiful novel connects me with characters and worlds in an intimate way that short fiction cannot accomplish. McCarthy's The Road is a perfect example. I became a part of the boy and the father's world. I know them as if they were real people. That is remarkable.
But, Poe correctly insists that leaving a story before it is finished, breaking it up into parts, loses intensity and the power of the moment. When the work is short, you are immersed, captured, becoming a character in the story. You enter the intensity of moment.
Poe's story "A Tell-Tale Heart" is a perfect example. If you leave the mind of the crazy protagonist for one moment, the story loses its demented power.
Do you have a preference in either writing or reading short and long fiction. Why?