Short Stories

  • Dance of the Happy Shades

    Alice Munro

    I was partway through this collection of short fiction when I had to check to see if this was Munro’s first collection of stories (which it is). So often her stories seem to leave no stone to untouched, and, even though it’s not as long as a novel, you still have the sense that the narrative is entirely complete at the end. Some of these harbor the traditional annoyance of the short story where you are left wanting something more. As the book progressed, there was less of that annoyance, so either I’d adjusted to appreciating those tantalizing absences of narrative or the stories evolved more to my idea of what Alice Munro is all about.

    “Boys and Girls” was definitely...more

  • Unaccustomed Earth

    Jhumpa Lahiri

    I have to admit I felt bored with the first part of this short story collection. Not really because the stories themselves were boring to me — Lahiri has a consistently elegant storytelling approach that I enjoy — but because the consistency itself pulls it down as a collection. It’s almost like each story arcs in such a similar fashion that they seem to be the same. Then most of the stories are centered around middle- to upper-middle-class, first- or second-generation Bengali-Americans, usually living in the Northeast US, so they kind of are the same.

    But there are two parts to this book: the first is the group of stories that have nothing to do with each other (yet kind of feel like the...more

  • Ficciones

    Jorge Luis Borges

    I’ve wanted to read something by Borges for a while but I always felt intimidated by his reputation of “superhuman erudition.” Most of this book is pretty cerebral with stories that are really academic-sounding fake histories; yet as the book progresses, the stories edge into the accessible range.

    I took too long to type this up and don’t have the patience to page through and find all the parts I liked. I recall “The Library of Babel” was one of my favorites. Oh, I also related the bizarre gambling outlined in “The Babylon Lottery” several times....more

  • The Boat

    Nam Le

    “Love and Honor and Pity and Pride and Compassion and Sacrifice” is probably the best story in this book. Largely autobiographical, a writer in the Iowa Writer’s Workshop follows the drunken suggestion of a colleague to mine his father’s experience in Vietnam because “Ethnic literature’s hot.” His father conveniently arrives for a visit, and he feeds a new page into his Smith Corona (a friend claimed “he’d broken his writer’s block by switching to a typewriter”) and types “ETHNIC STORY.” The ensuing exchanges between him and his father are just brilliant. I love that this story also references other stories in the collection, which makes the whole book feel like part of that one story.

    Le is into open-ended...more

  • What We Talk About When We Talk About Love

    Raymond Carver

    I’ve somehow managed to never read an entire collection of Raymond Carver’s short stories, despite being somewhat of an enthusiast of the form and having read a few of his stories in passing. This one caught my eye at the library, as I’d guess Murakami played off this title with his recent memoir. It turns out the title story is the one The New Yorker published a draft called “Beginners” last year — the version in this collection was heavily edited by Gordon Lish (the story behind the changes). This collection also includes “So Much Water So Close to Home,” which the film Jindabyne was adapted from, so it was kind of the ideal collection to pick...more

  • How to Breathe Underwater

    Julie Orringer

    I wanted to like this collection more, but there was something missing or it just wasn’t the right time to read it. Maybe the stories are just a little too polished, a little too clean. Like The Mother Garden, all of these stories involve some element of sickness or grief. But unlike that one overall this book doesn’t feel balanced because of such focus.

    “Pilgrims” is kind of intense and twisted with this weird dynamic of parents taking care of themselves seemingly at the expense of their children one of whom becomes barbaric in his grief. There’s something about “The Isabel Fish” (where the title of the collection comes from) that I liked at first, but it ended unconvincingly positive....more

  • The Mother Garden

    Robin Romm

    Elissa was returning this at the library and told me I should read it, so I checked it out. This collection could be subtitled something like”variations on grief,” as all of them involve a core theme of loss, whether imminent or realized. Most of the deaths involve sickness, especially cancer, mostly parents. Somehow they all capture something a little different.

    Some parts hit on somehow-still-tender spots for me, as when Mateo says in”The Beads,” “Maybe it’s too hard … Maybe I just can’t take it.” There are enough quirky, fantastic moments that keep the stories from becoming maudlin. Romm also has an awareness about focusing on death as a writer, acknowledged through the story “No Small Feat,” where a struggling...more

  • Difficult Loves

    Italo Calvino

    I’d only ever read Calvino’s amazing Invisible Cities, but I wandered into the FICTION C aisle the day I got my NYPL card and grabbed this collection. I guess I’ve always been worried of treading beyond Invisible Cities since it struck me so deeply. It’s kind of a collection of stories, as a young Marco Polo entertains Kublai Khan with descriptions of various cities in his empire, but it also kind of defies categorization. How could anything else compare?

    So I was gratified to be, perhaps less struck, but still enchanted with Calvino’s eye and voice (that appear so easily translatable to English) in this collection. Divided into four sections, it arcs from kind of pre-WWII...more

  • Tony Takitani

    Haruki Murakami

    A friend told me about Cloverfield Press a while back — short fiction paired with art and letterpress-printed covers. Since I missed this Murakami story in The New Yorker (it’s only online in a terrible, abbreviated version) and never finished Blind Willow Sleeping Woman, I hadn’t read this one before. It’s a lovely piece on loss, and this little volume is a great way to read it.

    I just learned the story is also a movie.more

  • Get Down

    Asali Solomon

    This is probably my favorite short story collection that I’ve read all year. I find the collections I enjoy the most are those where all of the stories are rooted in certain commonalities while each one retains a distinctive feel and focus, as if the collection constitutes an exercise in working out all the possibilities of those few specific themes.

    These are all set in middle-class black Philadelphia, often involve characters who grew up in the 1980s, and largely look to outline the various ways race and class can be intertwined yet also at odds. Another common element is nostalgia, both in the stories set in the past tense entirely and those where the characters themselves are looking back. Many of...more