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  • Jenny Shank 5:00 pm on 2019/01/04 Permalink
    Tags: , , short stories   

    6 Short Story Collections to Look Forward to in 2019 

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    Fiction readers who overlook short stories are missing out. Not only do some of our best writers get started in the form before moving on to novels (think George Saunders and Jhumpa Lahiri), but some writers are such masters of the short story that they write them exclusively (including Alice Munro and Lucia Berlin). Many of the most celebrated books of recent years have been story collections, from Carmen Maria Machado’s Her Body and Other Parties to Lucia Berlin’s A Manual for Cleaning Women. Here are six story collections due out between now and April that just might become the next big thing.

    Mouthful of Birds, by Samanta Schweblin, translated by Megan McDowell (January 8)
    Buenos Aires–raised, Berlin-based Samanta Schweblin caught the attention of international lit fans when her novel Fever Dream made the shortlist for the Man Booker International Prize in 2017. She’s back with a collection of otherworldly short stories, newly translated into English, that should appeal to readers who loved the feminist, horror-tinged fairy tales in Carmen Maria Machado’s Her Body and Other Parties. Mouthful of Birds opens with a bride abandoned at a highway gas station by her new husband—along with dozens of other jilted women—in “Headlights.” In “Butterflies,” girls transform into the title creatures, but some fathers don’t have the sense to respect their fragile wings. In the title story, a teenage girl’s transformation into a young woman who needs to eat live birds to thrive horrifies her parents, who cannot stomach what their daughter is becoming.

    You Know You Want This: “Cat Person” and Other Stories, by Kristen Roupenian (January 15)
    Kristen Roupenian is the author of an exceedingly rare phenomenon: a viral short story. In December 2017, the New Yorker published her story “Cat Person,” and it immediately became the magazine’s most-read story of the year, while igniting fierce social media debate about its merits and meaning. “Cat Person” plunges the reader inside the experience of Margot, a white, middle-class college student trying to puzzle out Robert, an older man she begins dating. Her only clues are the limited information she can glean from his texts and their strained communication. Roupenian’s debut collection proves her knack for shocking, unsettling, and riveting readers was not a one-story deal, with stories including “Bad Boy,” about a couple who make a sex game out of controlling their recently dumped friend, their actions spiraling into violence, and “Look at Your Game, Girl,” a haunting suspense tale about a girl who meets a creepy older man at a skatepark.

    This Is Not a Love Song, by Brendan Mathews (February 5)
    This story collection, which follows Matthews’ debut 2017 novel The World of Tomorrow, showcases Matthews’ knack for getting to the heart of a story through unusual structures and perspectives. In the funny, quirky “My Last Attempt to Explain to You What Happened with the Lion Tamer,” the narrator, an “old clown” at a circus, addresses the “new girl on the flying trapeze” who stole his heart, giving his version of the events that led to a preening lion tamer’s untimely demise. The title story begins, “She was Kitty to her parents, Katherine to the nuns in high school, Kate when she was in college. But to anyone who knew her then—Chicago in the first years of the nineties, her hands tearing at her guitar like a kid unwrapping a Christmas present—she had already become Kat.” The narrator, a photographer, chronicles Kat’s rise to fame in gritty Chicago indie clubs when it was going to be “the next Seattle.”

    Aerialists, by Mark Mayer (February 19)
    In Mark Mayer’s debut collection, he displays dark humor in stories such as “The Clown,” in which a clown is intent on murdering a couple in their 30s who wear Apple watches and want to buy a new house with “granite counters, sectional couches, [and] a pop-up soccer goal.” Mayer, who studied writing at the Iowa Writers’ Workshop, has garnered praise from Marilynne Robinson, who wrote, “His stories are singular, as detached and intimate as dreaming.”

    Lot, by Bryan Washington (March 19)
    Washington’s debut book depicts the city of Houston in all its sprawling, low-rent glory. Washington focuses on a recurring cast of characters—a young man who narrates many stories has a black mother, a philandering Latino father, and an older brother and sister. They work in their family restaurant, the narrator picking up the slack whenever his dad disappears, while trying to figure out his place in his family and the world. Washington captures the vivid atmosphere of Houston—”East End in the evening is a bottle of noise, with the strays scaling the fences and the viejos garbling on porches”—but leaves space amid the realism for touches of whimsy, such as in “Bayou,” when two down-on-their-luck friends manage to capture a very worn-out Chupacabra and hope it will change their fortunes.

    Sabrina & Corina, by Kali Farjado-Anstine (April 2)
    Kali Farjado-Anstine’s debut story collection arrives with lavish praise from beloved writers including Sandra Cisneros (“Here are stories that blaze like wildfires”) and Julia Alvarez (“masterful storytelling”). Farjado-Anstine’s characters are Latina women with deep roots in Colorado who are contending with the difficulties of modern life, from a former graffiti writer who can’t quite give up the thrill of spray paint to a stripper who moves her daughter to California to try to reinvent herself, but finds that wherever she goes, there she is.

    The post 6 Short Story Collections to Look Forward to in 2019 appeared first on Barnes & Noble Reads.

  • Sam Reader 6:00 pm on 2018/05/09 Permalink
    Tags: different seasons, everything's eventual, , full dark no stars, , i know what you need, just after sunset, , nightmares and dreamscapes, short stories, skeleton crew, ,   

    A Definitive Ranking of Every Stephen King Short Story Collection 

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    On May 22, Stephen King’s hotly anticipated new thriller The Outsider arrives to scare the pants off of us again. To keep ourselves busy while we wait, we’ve already ranked every one of the Master of Horror”s novels—but for the purposes of comparing apples to apples (presumably, apples with razorblades hidden inside them), our exhaustive list did not include King’s numerous short story collections. As King is one of America’s best and foremost short story writers, this is a matter that bears rectifying—after all, there are more than 100 stories spread across his 10 collections, and that’s a considerable body of work. Here, submitted for your approval, are the short story collections of Stephen King, ranked.

    Just After Sunset
    There’s nothing particularly wrong with Just After Sunset—it even includes one of King’s most ambitious publishing experiments in “N.,” a story first released as an online motion comic serial. At the same time, there’s nothing that stands out. The stories are consistently strong, but the concepts within them are ones he has either explored fully before, or improved upon in later works. In rereading the King collections for this article, I was surprised at how many of these stories I didn’t remember encountering before. And while “forgettable” isn’t necessarily a deadly sin, considering how memorable so many of King’s stories are, Just After Sunset must logically place low on this ranking, all things (and Kings) being relative.

    Four Past Midnight
    A collection of four novellas ranging from cosmic horror, to psychological horror, to dark fantasy, Four Past Midnight is, taken as a whole, distinct and interesting, but never truly cohesive. While all four novellas go some interesting places, none stand alone as singular works. Whether they take too long to build, telegraph their twists, or feel like a prologue to a later work, all four stories are memorable but not superlative. It’s a shame, because when these tales finally do get moving, they deliver on great concepts (particularly “The Library Policeman”), but they might have worked better trimmed to the length of short stories.

    Hearts in Atlantis
    It may seem like I’m being hard on King’s novella collections, but oh, is Hearts in Atlantis an uneven reading experience. The first novella, “Low Men in Yellow Coats” (later turned into a movie that shares the name of the collection but has nothing to do with the titular story) is incredibly powerful, mining a great deal of emotion and depth out of a story of a young boy’s unusual relationship with his mother’s new lodger, who turns out to be crucial to the fate of all existence. The story works even if you haven’t read King’s Dark Tower novels, to which it serves as a rather essential sort of footnote. It offers an excellent mix of nostalgia, paranoia, and fantasy, and offer a realistic look into the minds of its young protagonist. But after that, the ostensibly linked stories that fill out the collection grow increasingly disjointed, and are all over the place in terms of tone and setting—though the title tale, about a group of college friends who become obsessed with playing cards during a summer of political upheaval, is essential reading.

    The Bazaar of Bad Dreams 
    The most recent entry on the list, The Bazaar of Bad Dreams is a solid collection that hangs together on a general theme of mortality and morality, with stories including a seductive avatar of death, an execution in a small western town, and “Obits,” the Hugo-nominated tale of a journalist with the strange power to cause deaths based on the obituaries he writes. It’s one of the high points of King’s recent work, and hangs together a little better, both thematically and tonally, than some of the collections on this list. And yet, taken together, these stories aren’t quite as evocative or powerful as the books below—perhaps its damning him for maturing as a writer, but this one has none of the twisted pulp of Night Shift, or the unnerving gloom of Skeleton Crew, or the colorful weirdness of Nightmares and Dreamscapes. It’s solid.

    Different Seasons
    Another collection of four novellas, this one based thematically around “seasons.” It was King’s attempt to try something in defiance of his 1980s-era reputation as a horror writer (though “The Breathing Method” and “Apt Pupil” might still qualify as such). As an experiment, it worked incredibly well, proving King didn’t need supernatural twists or pulp excess to grab readers and keep them. All four of these stories are excellent, though some elements of each do come across as excessive, unsubtle, or slightly out of place (“Apt Pupil” is a notable example; it’s a novella about the banality of evil, but the protagonist starts off by cheerfully rattling off concentration camp statistics and quickly graduates to serial-murdering hoboes). Also, by this point, most will have already come across Different Seasons through the film adaptations (only “The Breathing Method” has not been made for the screen), skewing perceptions of the originals. While the printed and filmed versions are two entirely different animals, it’s difficult to look at one without seeing glimpses of the other; thus while the stories are very good, they’ve lost some of their sheen.

    Nightmares and Dreamscapes
    The most appropriate adjective to describe Nightmares and Dreamscapes is “kaleidoscopic.” It has its good moments, it has its bad moments, but the latter definitely doesn’t outweigh the former, and it’s a volume filled to bursting with all of King’s considerable talents and quirks and particular obsessions—pastiches of authors he enjoys, stories transmuted into teleplays, and, in general, ideas spanning multiple genres and styles. It’s a bizarre funhouse of stories, bouncing from tone to tone and genre to genre with abandon, from a tale of killer joke teeth, to a story about the dark secret behind a bestselling author’s success. Even the weaker entries are just interesting, and worth at least one read. The constant juggling of tone and format can get exhausting, and fictional sprawl isn’t always a good thing, especially on a reread, putting this one lower in the rankings—but we’re already well into “must read” territory at this point.

    Full Dark, No Stars
    Four novellas centered around the concept of revenge, Full Dark No Stars is a series of slow-burning, dark tales, each building tension in its own way until something finally snaps and it all goes spiraling out of control. It’s clear from  the very beginning of each story that something is going to go wrong, it’s just a question of what and when—and how it will all play out in the end (hint: not all that well for most characters). There’s not much to pick at here; it’s just an excessively rough read, even for King—not because of gore or violence, but because each story works overtime to live up to the collection’s name, from the unrelentingly grim “1922,” about a man who conspires to kill his wife with the help of their son; to “Fair Extension,” a sort of social satire in which a man essentially destroys his friend’s life through a deal with the devil, and which is either a dark comedy or a horror novel from the perspective of the monsters, depending on your point of view. Either way, the unrelenting bleakness makes it something of a “sometimes” book.

    Everything’s Eventual
    Everything’s Eventual probably doesn’t feature many stories King’s fans would call favorites, but oh man, is it evocative. Beyond its best-known story, the nightmarish ride “1408” that pits one man against a hotel room in a battle for his life, King paints on indelible image and moment after another. These stories provoke reactions, offer odd glimpses into the real world. They stick with you. (In full disclosure, I have been known to writes lines from the stark, ambiguous “All That You Love Will Be Carried Away,” about a suicidal traveling salesman who collects bathroom graffiti, on bathroom stalls all over the country). It is, by all measures, a good collection. Possibly even a very good one. But that its power is found in moments more often than in whole stories, it doesn’t break into the top of the list.

    Night Shift
    To be blunt, King’s first collection, published in 1978, is pure nightmare fuel. Its blend of gothic horror, pulp, suburban fiction, EC Comics-level grotesquerie, modern horror, and genuine compassion for its characters is something many have tried to replicate, but few have managed quite so successfully. While this one might be known for its more gruesome offerings (the post-apocalyptic “Night Surf,” which opens in the wake of a global pandemic; “The Mangler,” which somehow manages to make a demon-possessed laundry press into a terrifying menace, despite how ridiculous that idea is), it also contains the wrenching “Last Rung on the Ladder,” about a man who can’t forgive himself for his sister’s suicide; and the darkly hilarious “Quitters, Inc.” a far more effective smoking deterrent than any Surgeon Generals’ warning. It’s a remarkably consistent collection from front to back, even if the stories are a bit raw, and lacking the polish that would characterize the author’s later work.

    Skeleton Crew
    If there is one book I would recommend to any Stephen King neophyte, it’s this one. While no story collection is flawless (not even one of Stephen King’s), it’s more unified in tone, and contains more heavy hitters, than any other horror collection I can name, and it handles both the gothic pulp and gore a steadier hand than Night Shift (Skeleton Crew hails from a bit later in King’s career—1985). It builds dread and atmosphere like nothing else. These are stories that linger, just at the corner of your eye—images like the thrashing tentacle from “The Mist,” about monsters invading the mundane world of a grocery store and exposing the madness just below the surface of the everyday; the final, haunting line of “The Jaunt,” both a cosmic joke and one of fiction’s darkest examples of curiosity killing the cat. It’s the best display of the breadth of King’s talent, without the macabre palette of Night Shift or the referential sprawl of Nightmares and Dreamscapes. It’s every bit as evocative as Everything’s Eventual. It’s a tightly curated slab of darkness that invites readers into its parlor and bites them unawares, its venom turning them into lifelong addicts.Even better, it’s eminently accessible, allowing those who haven’t experienced King’s work to take their first steps with him into the dark.

    How does your King collections ranking compare? Don’t forget to also check out our ranking of King’s novels, as well as our list of authors who might one day inherit his throne.

    The Outsider will be published May 22.

    The post A Definitive Ranking of Every Stephen King Short Story Collection appeared first on Barnes & Noble Reads.

  • Jenny Shank 4:00 pm on 2018/01/26 Permalink
    Tags: awayland: stories, back talk, danielle lazarin, , don't miss them, dreadful young ladies and other stories, , heads of the colored people, kelly barnhill, laura elizabeth woollett, nafissa thompson-spires, , short stories, , the love of a bad man   

    6 Splendid Short Story Collections for 2018 

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    In December, people on the Internet lost their minds over a New Yorker short story about contemporary courtship—yes, a short story!—called “Cat Person” by Kristen Roupenian, an author yet to publish her debut book. As a debate about that story raucous enough to make Chekov blush raged on Twitter, Roupenian scored a seven-figure, two-book deal. Her collection won’t hit bookstores until 2019, but whether your interest in the short story form was piqued by the “Cat Person” furor, or if you’re an old short story head who can name the last three editors of the Best American Short Stories without Googling, there are lots of fantastic collections to look out for this year. Here are six notable collections that will hit bookstores during the first half of 2018.

    The Love of A Bad Man, by Laura Elizabeth Woollett
    Melbourne, Australia-based writer Laura Elizabeth Woollett lets her imagination roam across history and the globe, lingering especially in the darkest places, in a collection she describes as “fictional imaginings of the real-life wives and girlfriends of notorious ‘bad’ men.” Her narrators include Eva Braun and Myra Hindley, the wife of a British murderer, once called “the most hated woman in Britain.”

    The Largesse of the Sea Maiden, by Denis Johnson 
    Speaking of the Best American Short Stories, the title story of this collection by acclaimed fiction master Denis Johnson appeared in the 2015 edition, and it was a stunner. The dreamlike tale contains a series of vignettes involving an older gentleman reflecting on his life, incorporating folklore and unexpected humor. “This morning I was assailed by such sadness at the velocity of life—the distance I’ve traveled from my own youth, the persistence of the old regrets, the new regrets, the ability of failure to freshen itself in novel forms—that I almost crashed the car,” Johnson writes. Johnson died in May of 2017, but left this last book for his many fans to relish.

    Back Talk, by Danielle Lazarin (February 6)
    Danielle Lazarin’s debut collection features stories of marriage, families, love, and loss that emit a vibe so low-key and unrushed at the outset that they startle when their depth of characterization, insight, and feeling dawns. Take “Appetite,” about fifteen-year-old Claudia, who has just lost her mother to lung cancer, and meets an infinitely charming young man, George, at a party. George beguiles her by getting every word and gesture precisely right during the time they spend together—like some teenage Cary Grant whose uncle owns a New York City diner—and yet Charlotte knows she can’t hold on to him. “I lay claim to George for a little while,” she explains, “and then I let him go because I think it’s good practice for the rest of my life, because I think the longer you love someone the more it hurts, the more you have to imagine them in places they’ll never be again.”

    Dreadful Young Ladies and Other Stories, by Kelly Barnhill (February 20)
    Kelly Barnhill enchanted young audiences with her Newbery Medal-winning 2017 novel The Girl Who Drank the Moon (as well as several prior middle grade fantasy novels). Now she’s set to conquer readers of adult literary fiction who enjoy fantastical stories with her debut collection Dreadful Young Ladies. If you’ve ever wanted to see a widow pursue romance with Bigfoot (“Mrs. Sorensen and the Sasquatch”) this is the collection for you. It includes Barnhill’s World Fantasy Award-winning novella “The Unlicensed Magician.”

    Awayland: Stories, by Ramona Ausubel (March 6)
    Ramona Ausbel’s second short story collection continues to prove her a surprising, funny, and deft fabulist. In “Freshwater from the Sea,” Ausubel tells the story of a mother who gradually dissolves into mist after returning to her home country, Lebanon. It captures the feeling of displacement and longing for a homeland—as well as the yearning for connection with one’s own unknowable family members—more precisely than a strictly realistic account ever could. Even when Ausubel is at her most playful, as in “You Can Find Love Now,” told from the perspective of a Cyclops as he fills out an online dating profile, the bizarre and fantastic elements of her stories heighten that sense of connection-seeking common to all humans—and apparently Cyclopses. “Everyone has had good times,” Cyclops insists. “Everyone has a picture of himself in front of a pinkening sunset with a glass of white wine. Choose them if you want to. Choose me if you want someone to hold you above his head in the moonlight, bite your wrist until the first rust comes out.”

    Heads of the Colored People, by Nafissa Thompson-Spires (April 10)
    Thompson-Spires’ debut delves into the lives of contemporary black women in witty, up-to-the-minute social satires featuring YouTubers, anime cosplayers, and people who eat only fruit. This book comes recommended by master short story craftsman George Saunders, who wrote, “Vivid, fast, funny, way-smart, and verbally inventive, these stories by the vastly talented Thompson-Spires create a compelling surface tension made of equal parts skepticism towards human nature and intense fondness of it. Located on the big questions, they are full of heart.”

    Which short story collections are you looking forward to reading?

    The post 6 Splendid Short Story Collections for 2018 appeared first on Barnes & Noble Reads.

  • Jeff Somers 6:00 pm on 2017/09/21 Permalink
    Tags: , salute your shorts, short stories   

    50 Short Stories That are Like Mini-Novels 

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    The novel is a big canvas. It allows for complexity and a deep dive into character—ample space for readers to explore and contemplate. The price for this experience is time—it can take several hours to several months to read a novel, depending on its girth. It’s easy to assume a short story would be less complex or less satisfying simply because it’s short, but that’s not necessarily true. Some novels are pretty empty despite their length, and some short stories contain entire universes of meaning. The 50 stories listed here may only require an hour of your time to read, but they’re as crammed full of meaning, twists, and indelible characters as any novel.

    A&P, by John Updike
    Updike was the master of the small detail and the interior monologue, both of which are on full display in this early story. A checkout clerk at a grocery store ogles some young women who shop in their bathing suits, and then offers a typically teenage act of defiance in their honor, all for nothing. In-between is a novel’s worth of brilliant observation, while the edges of the story teem with fascinating details that hint at the world beyond the page.

    CivilWarLand in Bad Decline, by George Saunders
    It would be possible to fill this entire list with Saunders stories—all of his work bursts with details both explicit and implied. This sci-fi story of a future amusement park under attack by vandals could be made into a feature-length film without much effort, and when you’re done reading it you realize it’s precisely as long as it needs to be.

    Story of Your Life, by Ted Chiang
    The source material for the film Arrival manages to cram in an entire life story on the edges of your vision as you focus on the sci-fi puzzle at the center of the page. The twisty ending forces you to go back and read it a second time in order to catch that story and see just how deeply Chiang sketches out someone’s life while distracting you with the big shiny spaceship.

    There Will Come Soft Rains, by Ray Bradbury
    Rule number one is to never read this story when you’re feeling fragile or depressed. Rule two is to never read this story directly after watching the evening news. The quiet, somber tone and unadorned language hide the fact that Bradbury implies a novel’s worth of plot while focusing on one brief—but devastating—moment in a future that still might come to pass.

    All You Zombies, by Robert A. Heinlein
    Perhaps the most plot-heavy short story ever written, Heinlein’s twisty, twisted tale of time travel and paradoxical family relationships is one of those stories you keep going back to because you can’t quite believe he pulled it off. Even when you know how every character in the story is related to each other—and the answer is simple and impossible simultaneously—the story continues to surprise.

    Young Goodman Brown, by Nathaniel Hawthorne
    Modern readers might be tempted to dismiss Hawthorne’s 1835 story as simplistic, but if you look under the surface, the technical mastery is breathtaking. What this carefully-structured story has to say about faith and the human condition could easily fill several hundred pages if subtext was made text.

    The Monkey’s Paw, by W.W. Jacobs
    If all you remember about this story is the three wishes that don’t turn out as expected, you need to read it again. While the explicit story is so perfectly constructed it continues to be stolen by writers and producers to this day, there’s a novel’s worth of class, social, and family issues buried in the prose that subtly enhance the impact of each twisty result.

    An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge, by Ambrose Bierce
    Another short story so influential it’s possible to know the basic premise without being aware of the original story, Bierce’s classic fakeout tale of a too-good-to-be true escape is so awash in minute detail it could easily have formed the basis of an unnecessarily longer story. In fact, there are plenty of unnecessarily longer homages to this story out there, all of them merely proving that the original includes more story than meets the eye.

    The Necklace, by Guy de Maupassant
    The more things change, the more The Necklace perfectly comments on society and modern life. Famous for one of the most effective and perfectly constructed twists of all time, the story is so rich in pathos everyone who reads it constructs a symbolic novel in their heads that fill in the blanks of the story, giving it a breadth and impact beyond its length.

    To Build a Fire, by Jack London
    London is in dire need of a resurgence in modern times, and you might as well start with one of the most perfect short stories ever written. A man makes a series of poor decisions and finds himself in serious trouble in the bitter cold of the Yukon, his dog (much smarter than him in some ways) the only witness to his demise. Along the way, London conveys so much about the wilderness, the nature of death, and man’s pride you could ramble on for several hundred pages more if you wanted.

    Survivor Type, by Stephen King
    Leave it to King to pack so much contemporary detail into this story that it transcends its basic premise—shady drug-smuggling doctor is marooned on an abandoned island without any source of food—and becomes a nightmare of finely observed detail. There’s an entire novel packed into these few thousand words, even if the absolutely chilling ending (and final wham line) distract you from it.

    The Yellow Wallpaper, by Charlotte Perkins Gilman
    This absolute classic remains a must-read for everyone. People are still arguing about when the narrator’s madness begins—whether it pre-exists the story, rendering everything suspect, or creeps in as the story progresses—but no one argues that as with many of the stories on this list there’s enough backstory implied to fill a full-on novel, which is one reason the narrator’s fate is so disturbing.

    I Have No Mouth, and I Must Scream, by Harlan Ellison
    Ellison’s Hugo Award-winning 1967 story is dense; a lesser writer might have stretched it out to novel length by inserting a lot of dithering and pointless description or exposition. Ellison knew better, boiling this story of an all-powerful artificial intelligence keeping a handful of humans alive after the apocalypse so it can endlessly punish them down to a laser point that cuts, and cuts deeply.

    ‛Repent, Harlequin!’ Said the Ticktockman, by Harlan Ellison
    Ellison gets a second entry here because this 1966 story is a complete dystopian tale in miniature, sketching out a future society in which being late and wasting time is a crime ultimately punishable by death, lorded over by the precise and unforgiving Ticktockman. The Harlequin is a citizen in disguise who mocks and engages in civil disobedience. The story’s jam-packed with great detail, and remains a fantastic example of how a master can ignore the “rules” of good writing.

    A Perfect Day for Bananafish, by J.D. Salinger
    Salinger’s short stories were precision instruments, and you could choose just about any of them for a novel-like experience. Bananafish takes place over a short period of time in a single location as members of the Glass family struggle to enjoy themselves despite themselves, and ends on a tragic note that’s still shocking today. In-bewteen is an ocean of secrets you can spend a lifetime digging out of the words.

    The Dead, by James Joyce
    You could choose any of the stories in Joyce’s thematically linked collection, but the final story, the longest and the most profound, is also crammed full of a lifetime’s worth of existential detail and confusion. At the end of this story you feel like you know Gabriel Conroy better than you know most of the real people in your life.

    A Good Man is Hard to Find, by Flannery O’Connor
    Easily one of the most depressing stories ever written, it’s literally like the car accident at its center: you can’t look away, no matter how horrible it is. On the doomed family trip O’Connor spools out a family drama, a social commentary, and a crime story with a horrific ending as if it’s no big deal to somehow convey three novels’ worth of story in a few dozen pages.

    A Small, Good Thing, by Raymond Carver
    We’ve all read the apocryphal tale about Hemingway and the six-word story “For sale, baby shoes, never worn.” Well, Carver’s magnificent tale of a young boy hit by a car and a forgotten birthday cake is a grown-up version of that parlor trick, a haunting story marked by a baker repeatedly demanding to know if parents have “forgotten Scotty” as the boy lies in a coma, and then passes away. The revelation that is the ending of this story ties together the wealth of emotional detail Carver packs into it into something amazing.

    Bullet in the Brain, by Tobias Wolff
    A man waits in line at the bank, and becomes irritated by the women standing in front of him, is shot in the head, and dies. Somehow Wolff crams in the man’s entire life into these brief pages, an awesome exercise of creative power you won’t see repeated too often. By the end you know Anders the sour literary critic better than most characters who get hundreds of pages dedicated to their creation.

    On Seeing the 100% Perfect Girl One Beautiful April Morning, by Haruki Murakami
    Murakami’s very short story is written in such an effortlessly casual way you’d be tempted to think it was simply dashed-off. Repeated readings make it sing in ways you wouldn’t expect, until you ultimately realize Murakami offers you fifteen years of story, in a way, in less than 1,500 words.

    The Last Question, by Isaac Asimov
    This short story contains the entire history of the universe and beyond, a Möbius strip of a plot centered on generations of humans asking an increasingly sophisticated artificial intelligence how the heat death of the universe might be avoided. The ending remains as surprising today as it did in 1956.

    Interpreter of Maladies, by Jhumpa Lahiri
    A story that crosses cultural and socioeconomic boundaries with efficient ease, telling the story of spoiled tourists in India and their good-natured tour guide who moonlights as an interpreter in a doctor’s office. Marriages and relationships are examined, judgments are passed, and a child is almost eaten by monkeys—most novels don’t have half this much going on.

    The Garden of Forking Paths, by Jorge Luis Borges
    A spy thriller, a literary puzzle, a philosophical exploration of choice, all tied up with a killer twist ending. There’s so much to think about after reading this story you should probably not try to read anything else until you’ve had a bit of time to contemplate what Borges just did to you.

    The Snows of Kilimanjaro, by Ernest Hemingway
    The fact that this short story is often mentioned in the same breath as Hemingway’s novels The Sun Also Rises and A Farewell to Arms as among his greatest works is all you need to know. The story of a man dying of gangrene, stranded with his wife in Africa, is slow and solemn and totally absorbing as you wade through his melancholy memories, regrets, and subtle hallucinations, realizing that death stalks us all.

    The Rocking Horse Winner, by D.H. Lawrence
    Anyone whose ever worried over money, wished for more, or wished they were “lucky”—that is, all of us—finds this classic a dark mirror of their own lives. Throw in themes of sexual awakening under the surface, materialism versus love, and how children pay the price for their parents’ unhappiness, and you’re just scratching the surface of this incredibly deep tale of a young boy who can “get there” and predict horse races if he rides his rocking horse hard enough and long enough.

    The Things They Carried, by Tim O’Brien
    O’Brien’s harrowing story about soldiers in the Vietnam War is part of a larger tapestry of short fiction in the collection of the same name. The simple device he uses of describing what each soldier carries with him into combat offers up novel-levels of implied detail, leaving the reader with the unshakable feeling they have just caught a nightmarish glimpse of what war is really like.

    Sonny’s Blues, by James Baldwin
    Baldwin’s 1957 short story encapsulates a lifetime between two brothers in Harlem struggling to understand each other is so richly detailed and sprawling in its emotional ambition it’s difficult to remember it’s not a novel-length story. The quiet, intimate ending isn’t flashy, but has a staying power that “twists” often lack.

    Everyday Use, by Alice Walker
    This story of a young black woman visiting her mother and sister and the clash of traditional American black culture in the south and her pretentious Africa-centric stylings is so packed with cultural, emotional, and historical notes it could be stretched out to several volumes. What Walker achieves in just a few thousand words is simply incredible.

    The Overcoat, by Nikolai Gogol
    Gogol’s famous story is several things at once. It’s a study of middling ambition and poverty, a look at how materialism can destroy you, a ghost story, and a revenge tale all at once. The currencies and inflation rates may change, but the fundamentals of striving remain the same, and Gogol mines this for an impressive amount of story in a short space.

    You’re Ugly, Too, by Lorrie Moore
    Very little happens in this story—and yet everything happens. A bitter, dissatisfied academic hates her life in the Midwest teaching ignorant and uninterested students. She goes home to New York to visit her sister and hates life there as well. Along the way she spins anecdotes, spits facts, and makes darkly hilarious observations about everything. The final effect is simply knowing a fictional character better than you might know some real, actual people.

    Where Are You Going, Where have You Been?, by Joyce Carol Oates
    A vain teenager rebels against her mother and “steady” sister by going out to pick up boys at a local restaurant, reveling in the power of her looks. She meets a smooth man driving a cool convertible with a cryptic code painted on the side, and slowly finds herself sliding into a situation she can’t handle. There’s a fascinating story on the surface, and there’s the endless debate about what that story might mean that rivals any book-length tale.

    Emergency, by Denis Johnson
    The recent passing of Denis Johnson is a blow to readers, because there will be no more stories as dense and darkly hilarious as Emergency, the story of drug-abusing employees of an Emergency Room and their woozy adventures. High and unreliable, the narrator’s story of a shift in the ER and the events that follow depict the insulated misery of addiction and modern America in ways that provoke discussion—and introspection.

    William Wilson, by Edgar Allan Poe
    Poe’s short stories are all well worth reading, but his stories are usually much more concentrated and focused on singular moments. William Wilson offers a story of a life, of a man who is haunted from boyhood by a double who shares his name and who foils all of his planned “capers,” including theft, seduction, and other immoral acts. The psychological implications in this story by themselves offer a novel’s worth of discussion.

    Supertoys Last All Summer Long, by Brian Aldiss
    The story that inspired the Steven Spielberg film A.I. Artificial Intelligence is set in a future where families must receive government permission to have children. A young woman struggles to connect with young David, who writes letter exploring his feelings of love for his mother—except she isn’t really his mother. Aldiss manages to evoke an entire dystopian future while dragging your heart through the mud in just a few pages.

    Message in a Bottle, by Nalo Hopkinson
    On the one hand, you could summarize Hopkinson’s sci-fi story in a sentence—a creepy, fascinating sentence that outlines a time travel concept that is unique and brilliant, but still. On the other hand, Hopkinson gilds that brilliant concept with so much interesting character work concerning an artist, his strange child that exacerbates his ambivalence and distrust of children, and future art curators seeking to preserve his work, this could have been a much, much longer story.

    Bartleby, The Scrivener, by Herman Melville
    One of the most famous and most-analyzed stories ever written, this tale of a clerk who steadily refuses to do just about anything, replying “I would prefer not to,” until his refusal to even eat leads to his death, is darkly comic and still has more to say about the modern condition where we must sell our time to survive than most longer works.

    The Death of Ivan Ilych, by Leo Tolstoy
    Tolstoy’s study of a man’s slow, inevitable death gets different reactions from people depending on their own relationship to their mortality. By the final sentences of this masterful work we have come to know Ivan Ilych and recognize in him our own frailties and our own arrogances, which can either be frightening or freeing. Few novels have the impact of this brief tour of sickness, denial, and death.

    The Man Who Would be King, by Rudyard Kipling
    Two sketchy adventurers seek out a primitive tribe in order to set themselves up as kings—and, remarkably, succeed. Kipling effortlessly sets down an exciting, twisting adventure story that ends poorly for just about all involved. A lesser writer would have turned this into a pretty good book, instead of a brilliant short story.

    The Adventure of the Speckled Band, by Arthur Conan Doyle
    Just about any of Doyle’s Holmes’ stories would qualify for this list, of course, although many were more tightly focused. The story of a violent, impoverished aristocrat coveting the inheritance and estate of his stepdaughter is remembered for its clever locked-room mystery, but there’s a wealth of back story and detail evoking a much longer—and equally fascinating—narrative.

    The Open Window, by Saki
    The layers of this story are easy to miss. On the surface it’s a humorous story of a nervous young man who is more or less cruelly pranked by a young woman who spins a story designed to spook him. Dig in deeper, and there’s a meta quality to both the frame story and the story-within-the-story that is like a room full of mirrors, reflecting details into the infinite distance.

    In the Penal Colony, by Franz Kafka
    Kafka’s nightmarish story of a combined torture and execution device that carves the crime committed by condemned prisoners is ripe with terrible, horrible implications. The bleak history of the penal colony, the former commandant regarded with messianic fervor, and the fate of the current commandant when he submits himself to his own machine could each be their own novel.

    The Swimmer, by John Cheever
    The story of a young man who decides, on a cheerful whim, to go home one summer afternoon by swimming through all the pools in his suburban neighborhood, slowly transforms into a nightmare and ends on a tragic and bleak note. Along the way, Cheever somehow conveys an omniscience about modern society as it was in 1964, and the fact that he originally conceived this as a novel becomes very, very clear.

    Brokeback Mountain, by Annie Proulx
    Proulx’s study of closeted gay ranch hands who spend an idyllic summer working and living together and then the next two decades in intermittent contact is lush and complex, packing more into its few pages than many novels as she delves into the internal and external forces that coerce her characters into decisions that are ostensibly the “right” ones even if they don’t bring happiness or satisfaction.

    The Bet, by Anton Chekhov
    Chekhov’s name usually makes people think of his plays, but this short story is a sort of proto-Twilight Zone narrative in which a banker and a lawyer make a bet about which punishment is more humane: execution or life imprisonment. They bet two million rubles that the lawyer cannot spend fifteen years in solitary confinement. You can’t predict the ending, but you can spend the next fifteen years discussing it.

    Signs and Symbols, by Vladimir Nabokov
    A story about an elderly couple visiting their son in an insane asylum; the son’s condition is described as a belief that inanimate objects are conspiring against him. Laden with details, hints, and odd occurrences, Nabokov intended us to look for the “main story” beneath the superficial one—but whether this was sincere or an invitation to experience something akin to the son’s condition by fruitlessly searching for, yes, signs and symbols, is up to you.

    The Man Who Was Almost a Man, by Richard Wright
    A seemingly simple story of a young black man in the rural south who purchases a gun in order to feel like an adult, Wright layers symbolism in every moment of the story, painting a complex portrait of the American South in the 1950s and 1960s, adulthood, gun culture, and many other themes. Once you start looking for meaning in this story your head starts to spin.

    Lady in the Lake, by Raymond Chandler
    The novel of the same title is based on this story and a few others, but the end result—while a good novel—feels padded compared to the sharp, biting hardboiled detective story of Philip Marlowe hunting for a missing woman, which includes most of the plot points and all of the best bits.

    Drinking Coffee Elsewhere, by ZZ Packer
    This story is simply perfection. Dina is a smart and defensive young woman headed to Yale for her first year of college, where she meets Heidi and falls in love. Packer observes the world around her with a fierce eye for culture, for prejudice, for hype, and each sentence does a lot of heavy lifting to define the character and her surroundings.

    Blow Up, by Julio Cortázar
    The story that inspired the delirious film of the same name is deceptively simple: a photographer snaps a photo of a woman and a boy at the park, and imagines a narrative for them. As he studies the photo he notices details that take on increasingly sinister implications, and he slowly becomes obsessed with the photo and the reality he’s spinning around it. Deciphering what’s actually happening and considering some of the unusual narrative choices Cortázar employs and why is a bigger job than you might initially imagine.

    The Diamond as Big as the Ritz, by F. Scott Fitzgerald
    Part Catcher in the Rye, part adventure novel, part romance, and part fable, Fitzgerald’s usual obsessions are on display here as he tells a story of a family that discovers a mountain-sized diamond and descends into violent madness through generations in order to protect their wealth. In the hands of a postmodernist this story would take 1,200 pages to tell.

    The post 50 Short Stories That are Like Mini-Novels appeared first on Barnes & Noble Reads.

  • Jenny Shank 3:30 pm on 2017/02/27 Permalink
    Tags: , , daisy johnson, , , jenny zhang, lesley nneka arimah, , otessa moshfegh, , short stories, tessa hadley, Tim Gautreaux   

    7 Spectacular Story Collections to Read in 2017 

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    Short story fans are in for a treat in 2017, with so many collections by long-established masters and intriguing debut authors that it will be hard to choose where to start reading. Here are seven can’t-miss collections to watch out for this year.

    Signals: New and Selected Stories by Tim Gautreaux (January 17)
    Tim Gautreaux is a contemporary short story virtuoso, and this collection of new and selected tales offers a great chance for readers unfamiliar with him to catch up, and for fans to reminisce. Gautreaux’s home territory is the South, especially Louisiana, and his stories draws on and refreshes classic tropes of Southern literature. From a priest with a taste for brandy who must comfort a dying man who has sinned creatively all his life (“Good for the Soul”), to a grandpa who attempts his chores while babysitting a passel of grandchildren (“Welding with Children”), to a piano turner hired to visit an instrument at the decaying mansion of an eccentric widow (“The Piano Tuner”), Gautreaux captures messy lives with humor, heart, and grace.

    Homesick for Another World by Ottessa Moshfegh (January 17)
    Ottessa Moshfegh’s debut novel Eileen, a dark literary thriller about a woman who escapes from a New England town, was a finalist for the Man Booker Prize last year, and a movie is reportedly in the works. She has followed it up with her first collection of short stories, many of which were previously published in The Paris Review and The New Yorker. Moshfegh’s stories shock and surprise as she draws you into the quirky worlds of her characters, from an unconventional teacher at a Catholic high school (“Bettering Myself”) to an old man who becomes obsessed with the young woman who buys the house next door (“An Honest Woman”).

    What it Means When A Man Falls From The Sky by Lesley Nneka Arimah (April 4)
    Minneapolis-based writer Lesley Nneka Arimah’s debut collection of short stories promises to surprise and entertain with her unique style of mythic realism. In “Who Will Greet You At Home,” a Nigerian woman must choose a material out of which to create her child. The title story, which won the 2016 Caine Prize for African Writing, is set in a future world where mathematicians eat other people’s grief.

    Fen by Daisy Johnson (May 2)
    Daisy Johnson sets her stories in East Anglia, an area in the east of England that’s full of marshlands, hence the title. Johnson mixes magic and folklore in freely as her characters have uncanny encounters, often with the animal world: a dead boy has been reincarnated as a fox in “There Was a Fox in the Bedroom,” and an albatross storms into a pregnant woman’s kitchen in “The Superstition of an Albatross.”

    Men Without Women by Haruki Murakami (May 9)
    International literary powerhouse Haruki Murakami will publish a new story collection in May. The seven tales feature men who have ended up alone, and are laced with many of the standard elements of Murakami’s fiction, including mysterious women and Beatles references.

    Bad Dreams and Other Stories by Tessa Hadley (May 16)
    New Yorker regular Tessa Hadley is a prolific British writer whose stories capture all phases of the lives of women with rare sensitivity. In “Deeds Not Words,” the personal and political struggles of two female British schoolteachers are set against the outbreak of World War I. In the title story, Hadley enters a child’s thoughts, fears, and skin as she wakes in the middle of the night while her family sleeps on around her, and creates a mess that her mother, upon waking, thinks her husband has caused.

    Sour Heart by Jenny Zhang (August 1)
    Girls creator Lena Dunham has a new publishing imprint, and her first choice as an editor is this collection of stories by Jenny Zhang. Zhang’s stories explore the lives of Chinese American girls and young women growing up in New York City, as in “Hold On, Sour Grape,” in which the narrator reveals the degredations of living in Bushwick with little money, and her parents keep a list of “things we need to buy immediately or else we’ve just lost all human dignity whatsoever.”

    The post 7 Spectacular Story Collections to Read in 2017 appeared first on Barnes & Noble Reads.

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