· By Jessica Paul
Short story collections worth your time
There is a particular kind of precision required to write good short stories, sometimes less really is more. Here are some of the best examples I've come across.
Graham Greene's novels are revered globally and rightly so, his short stories are not as well known although they are excellent. This collection is variously comedic, violent, thought provoking, and dark. I think of Greene as a natural storyteller and short stories gave him room to flex his literary muscles. Written between 1929 - 1954, these stories are always unmistakably Greene. Includes The Destructors, set in the 50s, a gang of boys are determined to methodically destroy a beautiful old house. The house was lucky to have escaped The Blitz but when the owner goes away the boys get to work.
Exhalation by Ted Chiang
Chiang's second volume of stories is just a strong as his first (Stories of Your Life and Others). He writes serious and thoughtful Sci Fi, grappling with current concerns such as AI, free will, and the fallibility of memory. One of the most interesting collection of stories I've read, Chiang tries to grapple with big questions but never lets his stories become dull or didactic. Includes The Lifecycle of Software Objects, Ana, a former zookeeper, and Derek, an animator, create digital entities for the software firm Blue Gamma. These 'digients' are to be sold as virtual pets and they have basic intelligence and speech. As the digients grow smarter and develop there own personalities, Blue Gamma goes bankrupt, leaving them vulnerable in a digital world that would not hesitate to exploit them. Ana and Derek must try to decide what is best for their digients. What do things like agency, consent, and adulthood mean for digital beings?
Fictions by Jorge Luis Borges
One of the greatest short story writers of all time, Borges' Fictions contains some of his most mind bending ideas. The worlds Borges leads you into are beautiful and strange, he was a spectacularly well read person but retained a curiosity and wry humour that resonates through his writing. I think he would have been an excellent neighbour, with rooms full of books, deeply knowledge about mythology, Shakespeare, and theology, able to read many languages, some of them ancient and dead. Fictions includes The Library of Babel which describes a universe of hexagonal rooms, the walls of the rooms are lined with books, and these rooms seem to continue on without end. In theory, this library contains every possible formulation of the alphabet and so, in theory, contains every work of literature that has ever been written and can ever be written. However, these gems of literature are lost amidst lesser formulations, dangerous texts, or countless books of unintelligible nonsense. The inhabitants, or librarians, try to comprehend this universe, creating their own myths and religious cults along the way.
Trigger Warning by Neil Gaiman
Gaiman has a few short story collections and this is his most recent. I find there is a wonderful fairy tale quality to his story telling that has made him hugely popular. His short stories don't always go places that you might expect but I always find them satisfying and very evocative. This is a good choice for those who have read his novels and are looking for something more, but also can read as an introduction to Gaiman's work. Includes Black Dog, a moody retelling of the folktale of the Black Shuck. Gaiman continues the story of one of his best known characters and has him wandering rural northern England where there is a legend that a huge spectral black dog appears to people as an omen of their impending death.
Interpreter of Maladies by Jhumpa Lahiri
Lahiri's debut collection won the Pulitzer prize and the Hemmingway Foundation/PEN Award not long after it was published. Lahiri is an extremely accomplished academic as well as a very fine writer in English and Italian (thank you very much). Now, envy might make you think you don't like her but in this collection she wins you over with her beautifully understated prose, these are very grown up short stories. This collection is about Indians and Indian Americans, their lives, and the tensions between the 'old' and 'new' worlds. Includes A Temporary Matter, a married couple have grown distant from one another but we don't know why. They live in the same house and when their electricity is knocked out they face four nights in darkness with only each other, so they talk. Can they find what was lost between them? As the story goes deeper it becomes clear something very serious lies at the root of their problems. A story like this could easily become sensational and gossipy but Lahiri takes her characters seriously and understands the complexities of relationships. It is sad and it is beautiful.
Dear Life by Alice Munro
The Bloody Chamber by Angela Carter
The Dangers of Smoking in Bed by Mariana Enriquez