The Best Short Stories I've Read This Year

shelved under Fiction

In my year of reading one book a day, I have read some great collections of short stories. Short stories are like magic: they conjure up within moments an entire world of being, and convey within just a few pages a truth about love, friendship, sorrow, or joy. The best of the best short story writers give us the the truth with a punch of beauty, an illusion of ease, and the impact of forever. The best of the best I've read this year are:

 

Salvation and Other Disasters

by Josip Novakovich

Novakovich uses humor and realism and even some elements of fantasy to create wonderful and wildly imaginative (but also very real and compelling) stories set against the grim backdrop of the wars in the Balkans. He writes without flinching about the truths of life, the beauty and the ugliness, the moments of sweetness and the much less-than-sweet agonies.

 

Female Trouble: Stories

by Antonya Nelson

Nelson's characters are authentic and compelling, living the best (or the worst) they can, harboring long-held dreams or getting over lost desires and hopes. Nelson writes beautifully, getting every story just right, the doubts, the regrets, the pains and joys of life, and our efforts to try again and maybe get it right next time: "Nothing to do but plunge on. Set the cruise control, lower the windows, raise the radio, stay between the broken yellow lines, and don't look back. No no no."

 

The Garden Party and Other Stories

by Katherine Mansfield, edited by Lorna Sage

The short stories of Katherine Mansfield are perfect renderings of moments in life that seem simple, and even mundane, but turn out to be significant in their implications. In her stories, written quietly and without any sentimentality or overstatement, we see the truths of the world: all lives are painfully rich; fulfillment is just at the tips of our fingers or has passed by long ago; anticipation is the joy of life but also agony; and our desires and our loves are imperfect, impossible, and necessary.

 

Walk the Blue Fields: Stories

by Claire Keegan

Keegan writes perfect compositions of people and place (both are characters in her stories), setting them against brilliantly evoked and unique moments in time. Keegan's characters are neither saints nor sinners, but people struggling to find some truth in the way they live their lives. A priest in love with a woman, a brother unable to protect his sister, a woman who marries because another offer might not come, a woman who takes over the house of her dead ex-lover: strange people in strange places and yet they all seemed so familiar. Keegan makes them real with her lyrical but straightforward story-telling.

 

Iron Balloons: Fiction from Jamaica's Calabash Writer's Workshop

edited by Colin Channer

There are real gems of story telling in this collection, and all of the stories are good. What they share is the ambiance they exert, a distinctly Jamaican mix of family and church, duty and pleasure; the stories express the flourishing of these traits, sometimes at odds and sometimes in complete harmony and rolling rhythm.

 

Twice-Told Tales

by Nathaniel Hawthorne, introduction by Rosemary Mahoney

Hawthorne's wonderful and charming stories are vivid with American history, rich in complex characters and compelling plots, and universal in the struggles presented, such as the anticipation of destiny, the role of free will, and the determination of what is important in life, what should be valued and fought for, and protected.

 

I Love Dollars: And Other Stories of China

by Zhu Wen

The title says it all: the love of money is rampant in China and everything and anything can be bought and sold. The stories of Zhu Wen are riotous and honest, freewheeling and relentless. Wen catches the humor in everyday life, and the pathos. Life in China seems consumed by a frantic search for money and sex, one inextricably linked to the other and he makes the search seem like a Keystone Cop adventure of ups and downs (mostly downs).

 

The Yellow Wallpaper and Other Stories

by Charlotte Perkins Gilman

Gilman's stories are clever and original in character and plot, and utterly convincing in setting and atmosphere. Her sentences and structure are so clean and cut so neat, her descriptions so original (grasping the essential quality of the thing described), and her sensibilities are liberal and open. She is fun to read (except when she is absolutely chilling to read — and then she is even better), easy to cheer on, and hard to put down.