Short Stories

  • Airless Spaces

    Shulamith Firestone

    Image of Airless Spaces

    Passable, Not Presentable
    She remembered the time before she had gotten sick. When it was a challenge to dress, how good it felt to look just right and be certain of one’s appearance. Then came losing her looks in the hospital, and the ghastly difference it made in the way she was received; the way people turned away from her after one glance in the street. And the slow climb back, trying to disguise the stiffness in her gait, and the drooling moronic look on her face that came from the medication. Perhaps this was why the mentally disabled always seemed so bland-looking as a group: they had to strive to look orginary, the “pass.” That little bit of

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  • Safe as Houses

    Marie-Helene Bertino

    Image of Safe as Houses (Iowa Short Fiction Award)

    Quirky stories where houses rarely seem safe; the shorter ones tend to have better premises than delivery, but the longer ones benefit from the increased development. It felt to me that I enjoyed each story more than the last one, which left an overall positive feeling, though I started out feeling underwhelmed. The finale, “Carry Me Home, Sisters of Saint Joseph,” was my favorite: a woman struggling to adjust from a breakup becomes caretaker at a convent and uncovers secrets of the nuns she lives with. I got a little distracted by tomato growing details that didn’t seem accurate, unless this story takes place somewhere tropical. (Tomato plants are generally grown as annuals where winters are cold, and March would...more

  • Thunderstruck

    Elizabeth McCracken

    Image of Thunderstruck & Other Stories

    Is it really possible that I didn’t read any short story collections in 2015? This is a great one to rekindle an appreciation of short fiction, solid tales with a sense of humanity and a droll flavor. The nine stories in this collection are united in different senses of tragedy: there are both sudden and prolonged deaths, severe injuries, missing people, abandoned homes, and, on the lighter side, artistic betrayal. In the first story “Something Amazing,” two brothers move into a neighborhood haunted by a six-year-old girl who died of lymphoma. The story mostly follows the younger brother who knocks on the door of the ghost girl’s mother, hoping to have a wish granted, and they have a curious interaction...more

  • Too Much Happiness

    Alice Munro

    Image of Too Much Happiness: Stories

    I’ve read so many of Alice Munro’s stories, some of which were pre-booklog and some that I didn’t bother to write up at the time. This collection feels like a particularly strong batch of stories, if a bit more vicious overall, compared to other collections — so much death and injury!

    The highlight is definitely the story that won the title, “Too Much Happiness,” which is about the Russian mathematician Sophia Kovalevsky. Munro explains in the acknowledgments that she discovered Sophia while researching something else and then commenced reading everything she could find about her — in particular she notes that Little Sparrow “enthralled [her] beyond all others.”

    The story recounts the last days of Sophia’s life, with a few earlier...more

  • Can’t and Won’t

    Lydia Davis

    Image of Can't and Won't: Stories

    I think what I love about Lydia Davis is how she finds significance and narrative in the banalities of the every day. I know most people consider recounting dreams to be one of the most socially unacceptable things you can do, perhaps just below subway grooming, but rarely do I dislike a dream story. Whether or not you try to find the subconscious logic in it, the underlying humor of dream narratives are endlessly entertaining. Hence it follows that my favorite parts in this collection are the dream stories, some of which are hers and some those of family and friends.

    The Piano
    We are about to buy a new piano. Our old upright has a crack all the

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  • Bark

    Lorrie Moore

    Image of Bark: Stories

    I’ve been under this misguided impression that I’ve read a few things by Lorrie Moore when actually I have read just one novel, a long time ago, during such a hectic period that even my notes conjure up very little to remember it now. While these stories circle around themes of disappointment and regret, there’s still a wry humor and playfulness with language. I like how David Gates put it in his New York Times review:

    Her characters banter and wisecrack their way through their largely mirthless lives in screwball-comedy style but for them it’s a compulsive tic whose aim is sometimes self-protection (utterance that warns others off and forms a protective shell) and sometimes just to fill

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  • Vampires in the Lemon Grove

    Karen Russell

    Image of Vampires in the Lemon Grove: Stories

    I heard Karen Russell read from part of the story “Reeling for the Empire” at a Fiction Addiction reading last year, and I didn’t feel too inclined to read the whole story afterward. But I found my way to this collection regardless of that insufficiency of interest and will admit that I appreciated that story more hearing it in my own head. Russell is at her best for me when she’s creepy and sinister, and I get a bit less intrigued when her quirky humor is dominating. Though I have noticed lately that quirky doesn’t appeal to me as much as it used to.

    Russell’s language is occasionally captivating, though it doesn’t always make sense in context. The...more

  • I, etcetera

    Susan Sontag

    Image of I, Etcetera

    After reading Against Interpretation, these stories are as cerebral and absent of symbolic content as I expected. Sontag plays with form rather than creating complex plots laden with meanings, and there isn’t an extensive amount of descriptive detail. Nearly all the stories are written from some kind of first person perspective, though not in the traditional narrative sense in which it enables a feeling that the reader is somehow inside that character’s mind, privy to any passing thought. In “Old Complaints Revisited,” the narrator admits to purposefully obfuscating their identity:

    But I don’t want to go into too much detail. I’m afraid of your losing the sense of my problem as a general one.

    That’s why I have

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  • This is How You Lose Her

    Junot Díaz

    Image of This Is How You Lose Her

    Partway into this collection, Teri tweeted a link to this comment thread on a Hairpin advice post, prompting a brief discussion of Díaz and how autobiographical his work might be. Since I haven’t read much about him as a person before, I wasn’t aware that his character Yunior, who is the centerpiece of this collection of stories, is really quite similar to him, making much of his fiction pretty true-to-life. That awareness made some of the stories more uncomfortable to read than others, notably those that are primarily about Yunior’s womanizing tendencies. One could read these potentially misogynistic moments as highlighting the struggles of Latino masculinity, yet there’s a line between deconstructive exploration and stubborn glorification that shifts...more

  • Tenth of December

    George Saunders

    Image of Tenth of December: Stories

    I always feel I should like George Saunders more than I do; when The New York Times emphatically declared this “the best book you’ll read this year,” I thought perhaps these would be the stories that would teach me to love him. The flaw in this thinking being that I read several of them when they ran in The New Yorker. I plodded through “Escape from Spiderhead” both times I read it.

    What I find tough about Saunders is the hopelessness of his dystopian satire. I see the humor, I appreciate the spareness of his prose, but emotionally his stories just bum me out. There are too many characters trying so pointlessly to be better people — ”pointlessly” because in...more

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