I know. May is over. When I wrote out the first list a couple weeks ago, my heat was on. Now it’s hot as hell out. Supposedly, summer is the season for long, crappy novels you read on the beach. No way, I say! Read these stories instead:
“Hands,” Sherwood Anderson. The opening story of arguably the greatest American short story collection.
“Roman Fever,” Edith Wharton. Written in the mid-30’s, this story harkens back to the European Grand Tour often dramatized by both Wharton and Henry James. Beware of secrets…
“Big Two-Hearted River, parts 1&2,” Ernest Hemingway. A simple story about a guy fishing a stream, but there’s so much below the surface of the water.
“The Chrysanthemums,” John Steinbeck. One of my favorite stories to teach, mainly because the more puritanical students totally freak when they discover the sexual imagery. The resolution is heart-breaking.
“A Rose for Emily,” William Faulkner. His most famous short story, for good reason. The collective first person viewpoint has never been used more effectively.
“The Lottery,” Shirley Jackson. Despite the “trick” ending, this story deserves multiple readings. No story better deals with the dangers of slavish obedience to tradition.
“Revelation,” Flannery O’Connor. Just one story? Stupid rules…In my opinion, O’Connor is the greatest short story writer to have ever lived. She died way, way too young. Goddamn lupus. Favorite part of this classic? When the college student whips the book at Mrs. Turpin’s head.
“The Conversion of the Jews,” Philip Roth. Still no Nobel Prize for this guy? The award has become a joke. But don’t get me wrong: I’d still take one…
“’Repent, Harlequin!’ said the Ticktockman,” Harlan Ellison. A well-known story, but not typically recognized for the metafictional, post-modern masterpiece that it is. Manages to skewer every short story convention, from its overly long epigraph to the three-word climax.
“The Ones Who Walk Away From Omelas,” Ursula K. Le Guin. This story has no plot and no characters, but a story it is. The end never fails to give me chills. Every white, middle class fatcat who complains about his lot in life should have this story tattooed on his forehead.
“Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been?” Joyce Carol Oates. If you ever meet a man in black who hobbles and sports a bad toupee, run…
“A Poetics for Bullies,” Stanley Elkin. One of our greatest comic voices. Sadly, not many people know it. Not many writers can so easily capture the personality of his protagonists through diction and syntax.
“A Father’s Story,” Andre Dubus. His son has garnered more fame, which is pity. Andre Sr. wrote mainly short stories, not bestselling novels. This story shows how far a father will go to protect his child.
“Everyday Use,” Alice Walker. In the 60’s, many African-Americans looked toward East Africa for cultural identity. This satire rips the movement to shreds.
“Cathedral,” Raymond Carver. There’s drinking and dope smoking and lots of strawberry pie. By the end, a blind man shows the protagonist how to “see” a cathedral. Like all of Carver’s best stories, deceptively simple.
“The Things They Carried,” Tim O’Brien. No greater short story about war. Period.
“Shiloh,” Bobbie Ann Mason. Poor Leroy. He hasn’t a clue as to why his marriage is falling apart. Typical dude?
“The Behavior of the Hawkweeds,” Andrea Barrett. Historical novels are one thing, but historical short stories? Not an easy thing to do, unless you’re as brilliant as Andrea Barrett. This story mines the life and work of Gregor Mendel for metaphor. If you like reading about science and history, you will love the fictions of Barrett.
“Orientation,” Daniel Orozco. I usually hate 2nd person viewpoint, but I’ll make an exception for this masterpiece about an unknown, unnamed character that goes through the nuttiest of job orientations. When I first read it, I thought, why didn’t I think of this?
“Ysrael,” Junot Diaz. I guess the author uses a form of “Spanglish.” He incorporates Spanish words and phrases, and even though I don’t typically know the exact English counterparts, I still know exactly what he’s talking about. I have no idea how Diaz does it.
Enough. I know…what about Updike, Alexie, Bradbury…Another time. Add some of your own faves if you like!