Short stories wanted…
So in November I asked a couple of my literary-minded colleagues to recommend some short stories to me. It’s not a form I’d particularly explored, bar a couple of forays as a teenager, so I’ve found the experience somewhat thrilling. I’ve read, I reckon, a modest 100 since the winter and I’m trying to work out which ones are my favourites. Like everything in the literary realm – for the amateur reader, at least – the easiest way in is by word of mouth. I wish they were all readily available online; short stories, more than novels, seem so suited to the WWW.
Anyway, here’s my provisional list of faves, with a brief description of why I like them each beneath. I hope you’ll excuse my lack of comprehensive knowledge of the thousands of short stories ever written, but, like I say, I’m finding reading them enjoyable, so would actively encourage people to pipe up with what they like. I tend to prefer stories with quite a lot of pace – that’s just me, though. I hope these links are, you know, legal, and if there are any additions you can think of, please comment or Tweet me @robbiesharp.
1. Raymond Carver – “A Small, Good Thing”
I read this one at Glastonbury, to be honest, last week. I’m not sure whether it was the sight of Caitlin Moran Tweeting across the hospitality area, or the fact that I’d had no sleep, but I choked up. It’s the story of a couple whose son dies; and their discovery of a similarly lost soul.
2. Ted Hughes – “The Rain Horse”
A couple of guys I knew at uni have made this classic into a short film, which kind of sullies the experience (just kidding, kind of). The symbolism is striking; the atmosphere he creates in such a short space of time is pretty breathtaking. You know. It’s good shit.
3. Doris Lessing – “Through the Tunnel”
I had a half-hearted stab about a story of a guy swimming to the bottom of a cave in November, and one of my friends was like, “Yeah, that’s crap, this Doris Lessing story is a whole heap better and it’s about the same thing”. Necessarily, it is. The sense of claustrophobia is quite intense; again it’s that creeping sense of foreboding created by the story which isn’t actually overtly spelled out that makes it so powerful.
4. William Boyd – “Gifts”
You could choose from so many of his but this is the one that really resonated with me; the sense which only teenagers/young adults get of the cards quickly changing and fate suddenly being on their side. In your early 20s everything has meaning; a chance encounter can seem to symbolise something Earth-shattering. How Boyd can recall what that was like when he wrote this is somewhat mind-boggling. I like to put this in the “contemporary author getting his rocks off early on in France” pigeon-hole.
5. Wells Tower – “The Brown Coast”
Part of that New Yorker hot-list which has recently caused so much controversy – and I’m not actually sure Wells Tower has written any novels, yet, so maybe the criticism in his case regarding the death of the novel is bizarrely apt – Tower has crafted a series of incredible stories in his collection Everything Ravaged, Everything Burned (Larry Ryan recommended it to me, so I have to thank him here). For some reason this one lodged in my head. Most of Tower’s stories follow the same pattern – often involving some element of nature causing a bizarre event which forms the climax. Somehow, it works.
6. Anton Chekhov – “Lady with Lapdog”
This guy knew his beans, apparently. Was recommended to me by a friend who is doing her PhD on Carver, so I trusted her opinion, and it was worth it. That said, I am an old fashioned romantic. I tried to memorise passages so I could impress girls (that’s a joke).
7. Jay McInerney – “Third Party”
OK, I should admit I’ve only read four of McInerney’s short stories. This is my favourite, though “My Public Service” is pretty good, too. If you get bored reading Chekhov and need some coke-snorting, drunken lechery to pep you up, this is a pretty good choice. Quite a good approximation of what it’s like to go on a bender as a man and generally end up doing things you end up regretting. Also in the “contemporary writer being lecherous in Paris” zone.
8. Ian McEwan — “Psychopolis”
Again, slightly cheating, in that it’s also from the Malcolm Bradbury collection. I was thinking about putting in a couple more of the classics but I find them less enjoyable, so for that, I apologise. Again, the neurosis, the sense of estrangement, the creeping sense of something going wrong in Los Angeles is pretty profound here. Well worth a pop. I even bought the study notes to this one, so if anyone wants them, give me a shout.
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