Short stories

Following Tuesday’s discussion, let’s hear your suggestions for the best short stories, which will convince the sceptics among us that they’re not just for people who can’t be bothered to write a novel…

4 thoughts on “Short stories

  1. Jenny Heap says:

    I’m very fond of short stories – both as a reader and as a writer. Lots of people are ‘sniffy’ about them, but then lots of people are sniffy about lots of things.

    For me, a good short story is strong on atmosphere with just enough plot, character, setting and structure – there’s no room for the waffle or over-indulgence that can get hidden away in a novel. Of course there are lots of bad short stories out there, just as there are lots of bad novels, but at least a bad short story doesn’t waste so much of your time.

    Well known favourites that are strong on atmosphere: ‘The Monkey’s Paw’ by W W Jacobs (actually lots of things by W W Jacobs) and ‘The Yellow Wallpaper’ by Charlotte Perkins Gilman.

    Another favourite is ‘The Man Who Planted Trees’ by Jean Giono (although it’s very long for a short story). And this is a great website for audio short stories:

    N.B. I like novels too, I used to read loads when I was single and spent hours commuting every week. But another advantage of short stories is that they are a better fit with my current life as a full time mum with a young family.

  2. Louise Palfreyman says:

    As I said last week, I enjoy the economy and precision that goes with short story writing, and the most important quality for me is resonance.
    Stories that have resonated with me over the years are largely by Doris Lessing, Ben Okri, Edgar Allen Poe and more recently Raymond Carver.
    I’ll have to go and look some up to remind myself which ones I liked best but ‘Hidden History’ and ‘Disparities’ in Incidents At the Shrine (Okri) are both stories that pack a postcolonial punch. Okri takes on dislocation and blows apart the norms that confront his characters. He presents, for example, a city like London from a perspective of otherness, and digs beneath the veneer of societal truths. He weaves in dreams and unworldliness to heighten both the sense of fragmentation and dislocation, and I think as a cultural underpinning too. So, his use of the short story form is particularly deft, as he manages to redefine cultural boundaries, make subtle comment, weave in surreal elements and uncover truths.
    Doris Lessing wrote a whole collection on London, called London Observed. I like the idea that short stories can be grouped around a location or theme. She does this very well. Her style is stripped down and very sparse. Brutal at times, but often poignant and usually with something very profound to say about apparently nothing. That’s what I like best, actually. Saying something very profound about apparently nothing…
    I will go and find these books, and come back with some story titles later in the thread.

  3. Mary Ellen Flynn says:

    I adore the short story–and believe when it is done well it can shine brightly. I love their brevity and the fact that they capture a moment of change and nothing extraneous. I first came to short stories by reading James Joyce’s Dubliners in secondary school and I re-read them every once in awhile. The last time I read it I was struck by the story Clay- which showed the change in one of the least consequential women in Dublin. Through that story we are given a sly glance at the enormity of her life.

    My favourite short story authors include Raymond Carver, Flannery O’Connor, Annie Proulx, Stuart Dybek(a Chicago author) and Alice Munro. I look forward every year to the Best American Short Stories compilation as well. This years was especially good.

    Finally–in the November Harpers was published a story by Heidi Julavits called “This Feels So Real” which really excited me in my fiction-loving geekiness. It had energy and a vital voice, as well as humor. The short story: it may not be as commercially viable as the novel but it is just as difficult to get right.

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