I read a lot of fiction every year and every year I have a hard time fitting in a collection of short stories. I prefer long-form, or think I do, until I sit back and reflect on how in some cases short stories have impacted me more powerfully than many novels. Here are some personal examples of stories and short story collections that blew my mind and that I still think about in the hopes that you, like me, will break through your own defenses and excuses and find some gems of your own.
Leo was from a long time ago, the first one I ever saw nude. In the spring before the Hellmans filled their pool, we’d go down there in the deep end, with baby oil, and like that. I met him in the first month away at boarding school. He had a halo from the campus light behind him. I flipped.
Roger was fast. In his illegal car, we drove to the reservoir, the radio blaring, talking fast, fast, fast. He was always going for my zipper. He got kicked out sophomore year. …
Tim’s line: “I’d like to see you in a bathing suit.” I knew it was his line when he said the exact same thing to Annie Hines.
In this story a young woman catalogs all of the boys she crushed on, loved and lusted over. What starts out sweet winds up getting darker, sadder, edgier and less titillating as the names and details unfold. Minot captures the emptiness and disconnection that can accompany the search to find true love and companionship.
Lorrie Moore’s Birds of America includes some of the most memorable short stories I have ever read. One story, “People Like That Are the Only People Here: Canonical Babbling in Peed Onk,” based on her own experiences, captures a young mother caring for a baby with cancer. While the subject matter is devastatingly serious, Moore still manages to infuse the story with an amazing amount of humor.
Seattle-area author Ted Chiang is considered one of the best science fiction short story writers today. The Economist recently penned an essay urging more attention to Chiang’s work. That attention may flourish when the film based on “Story of Your Life,” from the collection Stories of Your Life and Others, arrives on the screen, starring Amy Adams. I love Chiang’s ability to explore our relationships with science and technology with a deep understanding of the emotional and very human repercussions. His novellas “The Truth of Fact, The Truth of Feeling” and The Lifecycle of Software Objects are two of my all-time favorites.
One of the masters of science fiction short stories was James Tiptree, Jr. whose true identity as Alice B. Sheldon was revealed in the 1970s without her consent. Tiptree’s work was considered masculine while in retrospect her work is seen as feminist and trailblazing, exploring gender and sexuality in challenging ways for her time; the Tiptree Award was created in her honor to celebrate speculative works exploring gender in new ways. If you enjoy jarring, provocative and visceral short stories, try the collection Her Smoke Rose Up Forever.
So, if you are like me and often think that short stories are not your thing, pick up an anthology or collection and give it a try. You might just start kicking yourself, as I do myself periodically, for all the wonderful short stories you are missing out on.
~Posted by Misha S.