7 Short Story Collections To Read This Year
If you love reading but struggle to find the time, these short story collections will make you binge-read again
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I f you’re literary but attention-challenged, these new and imminent short story collections — some brimming with flash fiction jewels — will make you binge-read again. The stories within them skip around the U.S. from the interiors of Los Angeles mansions to classrooms in Marion Barry-era Washington D.C., and from the Florida wilds and golf courses to the expanses of the Western states under the grip of a separatist rebellion. They’ll also transport you to a scrappier Singapore, a stormy night in Salvador, Brazil, and to the gods and mortals roaming Ancient Greece. We can’t guarantee you’ll give up Netflix or other pursuits but these shorts could prove to be seductive enough to swallow huge chunks of your evenings and weekends.
Fight No More by Lydia Millet
In “Libertines,” the opening story of Lydia Millet’s collection Fight No More, Nina, a Los Angeles real estate broker contemplates the porn stashes of the houses she shows. At the viewing we meet her at, she’s abstained from wearing her four-inch pumps in favor of wedges just in case her foreign clients disapprove of “looseness.” She notes, “That was the thing about American men; in a way it was comforting. When push came to shove, no woman could be too loose for them.” Millet’s wry humor continues as the stories of Nina and her clients and their relatives interlock happily and then painfully, and back again. The seamless stories will satisfy but will also keep you up reading well into the night.
Malay Sketches by Alfian Sa’at
Alfian Sa’at’s Malay Sketches takes its title from the colonialist Frank Swettenham’s 1895 travelogue about Malay “little lives.” In a feast of almost 50 vignettes, Sa’at, a literary bad boy in agreeable Singapore, presents his mini canon of minority Malay-Muslim life in the city state. His Singaporeans are the unemployed, recently-incarcerated, and those caught up in near-distance diasporic longing (Malaysia is across the causeway but a million miles psychically). At a job orientation, a newly-promoted hangman is advised to put scented soaps in noose bags so that prisoners may relax. Nostalgic for the rustic village life of her father’s generation, a woman goes camping and meets fellow campers, who turn out to be homeless when authorities come checking for camping permits. This is Singapore from absolutely the opposite side of the tracks of Kevin Kwan’s Crazy Rich Asians.
Come West and See by Maxim Loskutoff
Come West and See begins in Montana Territory in 1893 with a terribly lonely woodsman who lusts after a bear. From there, Loskutoff zooms to the present/future, where Redoubt, a libertarian separatist movement is taking the West from the Federal government. On the conflict’s edges and at its fiery center, Loskutoff’s humans are caught in brutal personal crossfires: a fraying couple trying to save their injured pet coyote, a woman plotting to murder a tree, a militiaman’s wife who blames his death on her sin of self-pleasure, amongst others. The animals — often in the line of human butchery — are never far too from the scene and in Loskutoff’s blade-sharp prose. A lighter case in point, this juicy lunar simile: “The moon was no more than a shank.”
Good Trouble by Joseph O’Neill
The white upper bourgeois characters of Good Trouble float through their worlds shouldering relatively benign problems. A poet, afflicted by writer’s block, is enraged about the idea of a “poetition” addressed to President Barack Obama for the pardoning of Edward Snowden. A woman called Breda Morrissey, easily the collection’s most compelling character, keeps her opinions about her son’s cheese interests and her grandson’s circumcision to herself but still fall fouls. Joseph O’Neill slides larger world conflicts (racism and international wars) into their issues, which include uneasy budget discussions during a 40th birthday golfing trip and a planned vigilante recovery of a son’s stolen iPhone. O’Neill pokes ample fun at his characters. In “The Mustache in 2010,” the narrator who has just finished rehashing “an upper middle class adventure” of years past, ends with: “I’m brushing tears from my eyes, it should be documented.”
Florida by Lauren Groff
Lauren Groff will snare your soul into her tempestuous Florida. The Sunshine State’s snakes — a houseful in one story — and swamps are present but so is a possible panther, a graduate student slouching towards homelessness, and a woman waiting out a hurricane as her hens fly away and old ghosts come to chat. Malaise, like the sticky, terrifying weather, soaks the characters even when they are well out of state in France and Brazil. It fills especially the recurring mom of two young boys character, for whom even Paris has “become somehow Floridian, all humidity and pink stucco and cellulite rippling under the hems of shorts.” She can’t even find respite in a small French coastal town with minimal WiFi. Her young boys are realistic lovely rascals but most movingly wrought are the abandoned young sisters in “Dogs Go Wolf.” Their bones make an appearance: “It was late in the morning, but the girls’ bones didn’t want to get up. Lie still, the bones said.” Even if you’ve read these stories in the New Yorker and elsewhere, marinating in them consecutively will have you shook for days.
Metamorphica by Zachary Mason
Purists aside, classics geeks will likely rejoice in Zachary Mason’s lush and very smart romp through Ovid’s epic Metamorphoses, one of the foundational texts of Western literature. Not to worry if you snoozed through it at school as Mason prefaces each vignette with a line or two of who’s who amongst the ancients. Mason’s reimagining begins with Ovid asking Aphrodite for the power to craft literature. She scolds him: “Not literature for you, but the literary life, because you’re lazy, and love company, what you’d most like is to be famous without writing a word.” Then the stories, mapped by the Gods’ constellations in the night sky, begin and throb with tragedy, transformation, and wars. At the end, Mason’s notes offer where he’s taken liberties. For example, instead of turning his wife into gold, Midas fades into midlife boredom having invented money. The distraction that sidetracks the racing Atalanta from her anti-marriage steadfastness is not the golden apple of the old but “Aphrodite’s mons veneris — what else could the golden apple be?”
Training School for Negro Girls by Camille Acker
The title of Camille Acker’s collection takes its inspiration from Nannie Helen Burroughs’ vocational training school for black women founded in 1908 in Washington D.C. The collection, however, wanders across decades up to the Obama era and through the capital’s neighborhoods. Its women and girls grapple with their training — both vocational and societal — and what it teaches them (or doesn’t) about being in the world. In “Mambo Sauce,” which feels very, very life-like, Acker pokes at all sides of gentrification with an interracial couple and black D.C.’s famed tangy sauce. Up for crisp skewering in the collection’s title story are the politics (class, neighborhood, and complexion) of trying to get into a posh civic kids’ club, “Toby & Tiffany.” The robust “All the Things You’ll Never Do” with its pure voice will have you by its end feeling tenderly about Bess, a proud if pernickety, TSA agent who’s never been on an airplane. None of these stories have appeared anywhere, which seems staggering because they are compulsively excellent.