Why is it great? Félix Fénéon (1861-1944) was a clerk in the French War Office during World War I, a literary editor, art dealer, anarchist and journalist. While working for Le Matin in 1906, he wrote what came to be known as “Novels in Three Lines”: brief notices of local news events—usually brawls, accidents, murders or suicides—that took up no more than three lines of newspaper print. A fairly typical example is: “On the bowling lawn a stroke leveled M. André, 75, of Levallois. While his ball was still rolling he was no more.” Fénéon’s three-liners are so great because they compress so much story into so little space. In relating Barcantier’s foiled suicide attempt, Fénéon depicts a vivid, detailed incident with just a few deft strokes and some artful syntax, suggesting a rich back story. Fénéon is Edward Gorey in prose: macabre, economical, darkly funny. His sentences are remarkable for at once being so workmanlike (they were written as filler to make the columns fit) and so accomplished at evoking haunting, unforgettable scenes.

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