Recommended Reading’s 10 Most Popular Issues of 2022
Stories by Wendy Wimmer, Gwen E. Kirby, and Morgan Talty are among EL’s most-read short fiction of the year
From weightloss pills and ghosts of preachers past, to trespassing and difficult mothers-in-law, Recommended Reading is EL’s acclaimed home to a wide array of masterful short fiction. We’re proud to be one of the largest free digital archives of short fiction featuring many of today’s (and tomorrow’s) most important literary voices. Today we are sharing our 10 most popular stories of the year, starting with the most read.
“Ghosting” by Wendy Wimmer, recommended by Kristen Arnett
“Ghosting”, which comes from Wendy Wimmer’s new short story collection Entry Level, is Electric Lit’s most read story of the year! The story follows Grace as she deals with the process of hiring an at-home care nurse for her mother Evelyn, who is experiencing unexplainable onset dementia. At the same time, Grace is also trying out new weight loss pills. Wimmer’s writing is funny and unflinching in its portrayal of bodies and the people who reside in them. As Kristen Arnett astutely writes in her introduction, “Grace cracks jokes to deal with her pain—her rage at her mother, the world, and at her frustrations with her own body—and that is where we glimpse the light of vulnerability.”
“The Sin Eater” by Jane Flett, recommended by Halimah Marcus
“In this story, sin is salt, sin is sweetness, sin is umami—the flavor of life,” Halimah Marcus writes in her introduction for this deeply sensory story by Jane Flett, and she is certainly right. The narrator is a professional Sin Eater, a person who helps absolve the dead of sins by consuming bread placed on their corpse, which absorbs the evils they’ve committed. The hope is that by doing so, the dead will be let into the afterworld. After eating the sins of a client named Bat, the narrator starts to experience involuntary dark thoughts and cravings. Flett’s story is wildly original, suspenseful, and full of rich writing that feels like feasting on the pleasures of language.
“Here Preached His Last” by Gwen E. Kirby, recommended by Rachel Yoder
“Here Preached His Last,” which appears in Kirby’s vibrant debut collection Shit Cassandra Saw, is narrated by a woman who is having a loveless affair when she starts seeing the ghost of preacher George Whitefield, who has some, um, choice words about her behavior. In her introduction, Rachel Yoder praises Kirby for creating refreshing stories that “undo how a woman should be and instead articulate how women are, in all their greedy, horny, callous, messy, exuberant glory.” Kirby’s masterful story draws readers into the rich interiority of a woman who, more than anything, just wants to be.
“The Replacement” by Alexandra Wuest, recommended by Alyssa Songsiridej
A woman is at her office job when she opens her email to find a message written in all caps: YOU’RE BEING REPLACED. So begins Wuest’s “The Replacement,” a quirky story about a woman dealing with the fallout of being officially replaced in every realm of her life. Wuest’s writing is funny, surprising, and ultimately a bit destabilizing, leaving readers with a feeling akin to what the narrator experiences on a train ride home: “I stare out the train window and watch the landscape become more familiar and stranger at the same time.”
“None of That” by Samanta Schweblin, recommended by Lynn Steger Strong
In her introduction, Lynn Steger Strong writes that “None of That” from Seven Empty Houses is “a masterclass in the many micro beats of subversion that makes Schweblin’s fiction so electric to be inside.” Narrated by the daughter of a woman who likes to orchestrate reasons to enter strangers’ homes, this story is certainly full of electricity. From the moment the mother’s car gets stuck in the mud in a wealthy neighborhood, there is a quiet eeriness vibrating beneath each sentence. Schweblin’s writing expertly tiptoes the line of normalcy and strangeness until this line becomes so blurred that what is left is Schweblin’s characters at the forefront, their deepest desires and startling impulses laid bare.
“You Have A Friend in 10A” by Maggie Shipstead, recommended by Stephanie Danler
“Is it an accident that the same soil that fertilizes the fantasy machine of Hollywood is the home to so many religions that border on cults?” asks Stephanie Danler in her introduction, and as Danler goes on to answer, no, Maggie Shipstead knows there are no accidents. The titular story from Shipstead’s collection You Have A Friend in 10A vividly explores the connections between Hollywood and religion, belief and the desire to create the illusion of meaning. Narrated by Karr Alison, a movie star who recently left her Scientology-esque church, this story pulls readers into the world of the rich and famous while also exploring the deep hooks powerful institutions can sink into a person.
“Smokes Last” by Morgan Talty, recommended by Isaac Fitzgerald
Morgan Talty’s debut short story collection Night of the Living Rez created quite the buzz this year, and reading “Smokes Last” certainly answers why. As Isaac Fitzgerald notes in his introduction, this story “gives you a sense of the dynamism and fabulous sense of place you’ll find throughout the entire collection.” The story follows David and his friends as they hang out in the woods, smoke cigs, and later have an encounter with men in town that raises tensions. By the end of this story, Talty’s characters will feel so alive, their dynamics so real, you’ll want to pick up the whole collection to spend more time with them.
“Xífù” by K-Ming Chang, recommended by Bryan Washington
“I don’t mean I want her to die. I’m just saying, what woman pretends to kill herself six times?” These are the opening lines of K-Ming Chang’s story “Xífù”, which explores the relationship between the brash, hilarious narrator and her judgmental mother-in-law. K-Ming Chang stories are difficult to summarize because one must experience a K-Ming Chang story to truly understand the scope of its brilliance. In his introduction, Bryan Washington speaks to Chang’s immense talent seen throughout her collection Gods of Want: “Chang not only accomplishes narrative reinvention in her writing—she builds upon what feels achievable on the page.” No two K-Ming Chang stories are the same except in this regard: they will surely awe you.
“Moist House” by Kate Folk, recommended by Isle McElroy
Perfect for fans of strange horror, “Moist House” from Folk’s collection Out There tells the story of Karl, a middle-aged man who signs a lease for a house that must remain moist via its tenant regularly applying lotion to its walls. You know, one of those houses. Isle McElroy wonderfully sums up the many strengths of Folk’s strange story in the introduction: “For all the surreal qualities, though, the terror of ‘Moist House’ exists firmly in its human elements. This is a tale of obsession, stubbornness, love, and regret: the hard feelings that make up our lives.”
“Sandman” by Kim Fu, recommended by Kevin Brockmeier
Kelly, who has a long history of insomnia, is visited one night by a faceless figure who pours sand from his mouth into hers, ushering Kelly into a rare night of refreshing sleep. So begins “Sandman” by Kim Fu, a story that beautifully blends the mundane with the magical. As Kevin Brockmeier writes, Fu “has an eye and a gift for phrasing that seems to kindle a light inside everything she describes, not transforming it so much as revealing it, so that it glows with its own exact oddity, the oddity it has always possessed.” If you love this story, read the entire collection, Lesser Known Monsters of the 21st Century.