Bossy Short Story Love
Some of my fellow readers have told me in the past that they don't gravitate toward short stories, whether because they want to dig in more deeply over the course of a longer story and book, because they feel like situations in short stories sometimes feel unresolved, or for another reason.
Sometimes short stories tend toward exploring tragedy, as in many of the luminous collections here and their gorgeous heartbreaks.
But sometimes nothing does the reading trick like shorter works--especially when time is tight or when I might have trouble concentrating (for example, during a worldwide pandemic)--and I especially love an interconnected set of stories that when taken collectively offer the richness of a longer, in-depth story.
Have you read any of these collections? Do you have any favorite short story collections I should read?
My own to-read list of short stories includes Maggie Shipstead's upcoming short story collection You Have a Friend in 10A, BJ Novak's One More Thing, Leah Hampton's F*ckface, Kevin Wilson's Tunneling to the Center of the Earth, and Ron Rash's Something Rich and Strange.
01 Thunderstruck & Other Stories by Elizabeth McCracken
“Whatever you have lost there are more of, just not yours.”
McCracken is a fantastic writer who highlights odd, strangely beautiful elements in small moments. Each of the nine stories in this collection builds from a loss of some kind.
In what feels like careful, deliberate shaping by McCracken and her editor, the early stories felt more bleak to me and the later ones offered a little more hope, or at least acceptance.
“This was her flaw as a parent, she thought later: she had never truly gotten rid of a single maternal worry. They were all in the closet, with the minuscule footed pajamas and hand-knit baby hats, and every day Laura took them out, unfolded them, tried to put them to use.”
McCracken is also the author of The Giant's House, Here's Your Hat What's Your Hurry, The Souvenir Museum, Bowlaway, and the beautiful, heart-wrenching An Exact Replica of a Figment of My Imagination.
02 The Office of Historical Corrections by Danielle Evans
She thought the insistence on victims without wrongdoers was at the base of the whole American problem, the lie that supported all the others.
In The Office of Historical Corrections, Evans offers short stories centering around themes of race, relationships, identity, the fallibility of those who shape historical "fact," as well as grief and loss. She beautifully and powerfully illustrates essential, deep truths by tracing moments in her characters' everyday lives.
The themes here are often haunting, always powerful, and wonderfully nuanced, even when the scenes (the artist's exhibition, the actual on-the-spot printed and posted corrections of "fact," and others) take metaphors to their limits.
Click here for my full review of The Office of Historical Corrections.
03 Both Ways Is the Only Way I Want It by Maile Meloy
“His heart felt dangerously full, for the first time in years. That dried-up battered organ, suddenly flush with love. It could kill him.”
In Both Ways Is the Only Way I Want It, Maile Meloy keeps you on your toes as you consider what may lay in wait within the relationships she lays out, and you may not be able to anticipate who's going to have a life-changing revelation (or not), who is just who they say they are, and who isn't at all what they seem.
A couple of these stories left me wishing for more, but Meloy doesn't leave you hanging, instead drawing you in with the depths of each work.
Meloy is also the author of Liars and Saints and A Family Daughter as well as the story collection Half in Love. She also wrote the Apothecary trilogy for young readers.
04 Nothing Gold Can Stay by Ron Rash
In Nothing Gold Can Stay, a collection by Ron Rash, the stories take place in different eras, but all are set in North Carolina.
The state is as prominent as a character as Rash explores trapped despair, haunting choices, and the beauty of even bleak moments.
Rash's writing here is, as always, exquisite, and within these 14 stories, he turns his attention to characters who yearn, regret, and desperately attempt to hide their fragility behind steely exteriors.
North Carolina's Rash (he teaches at Western Carolina University) is also the author of other Appalachia-set books: Serena, The World Made Straight, Burning Bright, Above the Waterfall, The Risen, The Cove, and One Foot in Eden, among others.
05 Redeployment by Phil Klay
“There are two ways to tell the story. Funny or sad. Guys like it funny, with lots of gore and a grin on your face when you get to the end. Girls like it sad, with a thousand-yard stare out to the distance as you gaze upon the horrors of war they can’t quite see. Either way, it’s the same story.”
In Iraq Marine veteran and Dartmouth grad Phil Klay's National Book Award winner Redeployment, the author shares short stories about war and life afterward that read like autobiographical vignettes.
This is, as you might expect, difficult subject matter--exploring powerful emotions, troops haunted by decisions and unforeseen dangers, painful adjustments to life after war, and injury and loss.
But Klay draws you into his characters' situations too fully for you to want to turn away.
06 Anything Is Possible by Elizabeth Strout
As soon as I finished reading this short story collection from Elizabeth Strout (author of, among others, Olive Kitteridge, the wonderful Olive, Again, My Name Is Lucy Barton, and Oh William!), I wished I’d slowed down and taken notes or could start all over and read it again immediately.
I love how Strout interlinks characters, backgrounds, and stories so gracefully, yet also allows them to stand on their own. The stories feel immediate and real.
Strout shines a light on turning points: small but powerful shifts of power or emotion, masterfully illustrating how a moment sends ripples through the day or the broader life of those involved in it—it’s fascinating.
For my full review, please see Anything Is Possible.