Short Stories

  • This is How You Lose Her

    Junot Díaz

    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

    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 their...more

  • The Collected Stories of Lydia Davis

    Lydia Davis

    I read the first two books in this collection not quite two years ago. Now maybe wasn’t the best time to revisit this, as I felt pretty distracted until the end when I was able to find some focus again. But then reading one of Davis’s books is more of an effort than you would expect, partially because her stories vary from the incredibly short to involved. The incredibly short ones seem like they would be the easiest, but sometimes the linguistic riffing takes some time to untangle. Even the involved stories don’t follow any kind of traditional narrative and don’t necessarily sweep you up in the usual way.

    Two of my favorite longer stories from the last book...more

  • Other People We Married

    Emma Straub

    Summer, with all its distractions, is generally an opportune time for reading short fiction that you can digest in small segments. This collection seems like a particularly good fit, as many of the stories have themes of travel. At some point I thought to myself that it was strange that two of them had a character with the same name; only after finishing and reading a few reviews did it come clear that this wasn’t a coincidence — I’d actually missed that the character recurred in three stories. Summer and its distractions?

    The stories follow a pretty traditional short story structure: just enough info to know who you’re dealing with; a simple conflict; and a quiet revelation, but not necessarily a resolution. The...more

  • You Think That’s Bad

    Jim Shepard

    The most frequent comment I see about Jim Shepard’s writing is that he attacks such a wide variety of worlds, in terms of places and places in time. It seems to go against the “write what you know” commandment passed down to aspiring writers, except each story feels convincingly accurate; he is apparently able to research well and therefore know more than the average person. In this collection among the offerings the characters include is a “black world” operative at Los Alamos, a soldier on Papua New Guinea during WWII, the creator of Godzilla, the French child serial killer Gilles de Rais, and a group of Polish climbers attempting a winter expedition in the Himalayas.

    My favorite in the...more

  • The Collected Stories of Lydia Davis

    Lydia Davis

    I picked up All the King’s Horses as a break from this and found that a longer narrative really hit the spot. Afterward I decided to finish up the stories in the section I was reading here and come back to the rest of the collection later, only to discover somewhat disappointingly that there were just a handful until that next break. But I’m sticking to the plan.

    Davis most notably writes a lot of short fiction, sometimes just a paragraph or even a sentence in length. Often her characters aren’t given names; sometimes the story will be from the perspective of a couple and the whole thing is written as “we” and “us,” and it’s not annoying. She doesn’t...more

  • Pretty Monsters

    Kelly Link

    It’s almost exactly four years since I read most of Link’s Stranger Things Happen, and I experienced similar hit-and-miss responses to these stories. Sometimes the concept of the story is more entertaining than the execution, and the writing is often too simplistic and almost juvenile, though I discovered after finishing the last story that this a YA book. I guess that’s why all the stories are focused on younger people!

    There’s a story centered around a mysterious TV show that airs irregularly and is set in “The Free People’s World-Tree Library,” a library that’s an entire world of its own with forests and oceans; another involving a handbag that contains an entire village or a vicious dog, depending...more

  • Bats or Swallows

    Teri Vlassopoulos

    I’ve known Teri for years via the zine world, and it’s exciting to see her first book published. These stories are largely melancholy, lined with the poignancy of deaths and disappointments. They feel open-ended, most likely because the characters without fail need to reach a point of internal conclusion rather than exacting any kind of influence on the world around them.

    See also: “Baby Teeth” on Joylandmore

  • Tales from Outer Suburbia

    Shaun Tan

    The gorgeous art in this collection of stories would make this worth checking out on its own, but the stories are at times vaguely unsettling, examining the fantastically surreal edges of an otherwise banal world, while also remaining playful. In the end, it’s something kids would find entertaining, while adults may more appreciate the darker elements.

    When I was a kid, there was a big water buffalo living in the vacant lot at the end of our street, the one with the grass no one ever mowed. He slept most of the time, and ignored everybody who walked past, unless we happened to stop and ask him for advice. Then he would come up to us slowly, raise his left hoof,

  • Carried Away

    Alice Munro

    After the semi-disappointment in Dance of the Happy Shades, I picked up this collection and worked my way through it over autumn in between other books. I’d probably read half of these seventeen favorites in their original collections, so reading this was a combination of finding and revisiting. I can now be sure that her earlier stories just don’t grab me as completely.

    The re-reading of stories was sometimes the best part: the first instantly nostalgic ones I’d read in “The Beggar Maid,” the devastating “Runaway,” plus I’d forgotten that “The Bear Came Over the Mountain” was the inspiration for the film Away from Her — both are lovely and melancholy but there are definitely some more internal sections that were...more