Electric Lit’s 15 Best Short Story Collections of 2019
Staff and contributors recommend their favorite short fiction of the year
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Is your attention span ravaged by living in our hellscape of a modern era? Good news: 2019 brought us plenty of brilliant short fiction. We polled current and former Electric Lit staff and contributors about their favorite collections of the year, and their picks include debuts, National Book Award finalists, posthumous anthologies by overlooked masters, and the latest from some of the titans of the craft. The results are in ascending order, so read to the bottom for our #1 pick.
Home Remedies, Xuan Juliana Wang
Alexander Chee, recommending Wang’s “Days of Being Mild” for Recommended Reading, writes that this collection about young people in China “marks the arrival of an urgent and necessary literary voice we’ve been needing, waiting for maybe without knowing.”
The World Doesn’t Require You, Rion Amilcar Scott
The fictional town of Cross River, Maryland, where these stories take place, is “a masterpiece of true imagination, art that reminds me of the work it takes to make a meal from scratch,” writes Tyrese L. Coleman in her interview with Scott.
We Love Anderson Cooper, R.L. Maizes
Maizes’ stories are all about outsiders, deftly writing not only to the humanity of her characters but also the ways in which we, too, have all been outsiders at some point of another. Recommending “A Cat Called Grievous,” EL executive director Halimah Marcus calls it “domestic realism with a wrench in it.”
Where the Light Falls, Nancy Hale
“In the months that it took to put Where The Light Falls together, I have often asked myself how we could have turned our eyes from a writer of such precision and strength,” says Lauren Groff, who edited this posthumous collection, recommending “The Bubble.”
Black Light, Kimberly King Parsons
In a debut that interviewer Sarah Neilson describes as “weird, eerie, and sublimely beautiful,” stories of characters all longing for lives just out of reach fully immerse readers in their minds and their longings. Read a story recommended by Aimee Bender here.
The Usual Uncertainties, Jonathan Blum
Blum follows characters and communities from the margins in sparse, yet devastating prose. Read “The White Spot,” recommended by Deborah Eisenberg, to see it in action.
False Bingo, Jac Jemc
In Jac Jemc’s interview she discusses empathy, her grandparents, and the shades of gray that make up human nature. Her short stories are mini character studies preoccupied with the same themes.
Song for the Unraveling of the World, Brian Evenson
Brian Evenson is a master at crafting stories of doubt, delusion, and paranoia. His stories take you into the twisted depths of human obsessions only to abandon you in the middle of the labyrinth.
Calm Sea and Prosperous Voyage, Bette Howland
Nearly forgotten when its author suddenly disappeared from public view, Calm Sea and Prosperous Voyage restores a voice that chronicles 1970s Chicago with a sly, joyous humor.
Sing to It, Amy Hempel
Hempel’s first short story collection in over a decade is a study in magnifying minds in motion, Yvonne Conza writes in her interview with the author. Hempel’s narrators “swerve toward us with a muscled complexity of vulnerability, not a state of victimhood.” Rick Moody recommended a sad story about dogs from this collection.
Sabrina & Corina, Kali Fajardo-Anstine
Maria V. Luna thinks that Fajardo-Anstine’s greatest strength is her courage. “[She] reveals all this through acts of social and cultural justice in literary form. She does not tread lightly upon truth, instead she brushes away layers of dirt and deception.” Read the rest of our interview with the National Book Award finalist here, read Ruby Mora’s essay on how Sabrina & Corina represents a new generation of Latinx literature, or read an excerpt from Sabrina & Corina recommended by Mat Johnson.
Exhalation, Ted Chiang
Ted Chiang is specializes in inventive speculative short stories that engage with deep questions about human nature—even when they’re also about time travel, AIs, or sentient parrots. “No matter the species of a story’s protagonist, no matter the universe that forms the story’s setting, the subject is always us,” writes Tochi Onyebuchi of Exhalation in his interview with Ted Chiang. “The Great Silence,” published in Recommended Reading all the way back in 2016, is one of the stories included.
Mouthful of Birds, Samanta Schweblin
“There are murky darknesses inside all of us that can be dredged up by fiction,” writes Alison Tate Lewis in her interview of Samanta Schweblin, and these surreal short stories do the trick. Sarah Rose Etter also interviewed the translator of Mouthful of Birds about what it takes to bring a book like this into another language. The title story ran in Recommended Reading back in 2012, but with a different translator, so you can compare notes.
Lot, Bryan Washington
The word “community” is so overused as to become almost meaningless, but Washington manages to do it justice in his stories about the various communities within Houston. Candace Williams delves more into this in her conversation with Washington, and you can read the title story from Lot in Recommended Reading, where recommender Aja Gabel says that Washington’s “restrained but unctuous” writing “reliably knocks me over.”
Orange World, Karen Russell
Karen Russell is a master of the weird, and Orange World is one of her best yet, full of indelible stories about parasitic trees, long-dead bog bodies, echolocating gondoliers in post-deluge Miami, and strange little devils that live on breast milk. Throughout, says Erin Bartnett in her interview with Russell, there’s an odd kind of optimism.