Thanks to the many of you who sent in the names of your favorite short stories. I’ll post a few each week over the coming weeks, because the entire list is pretty overwhelming. But hey, “overwhelmed” is pretty much my middle name lately, so keep sending them on in! Next week, I’ll even share our diminutive proprietress’s list, as well as those of other fantastically sexy and exciting mystery guests, including the man who Maud and I agree is “the funniest man alive“!
At the risk of being mind-numbingly obvious, tastes are pretty damn subjective. I suppose I was mostly suprised at how few repeats there were, as though I was somehow expecting that a few clear favorites would emerge, as though life were really that boring. But the only two stories that were mentioned more than once were Raymond Carver’s “Cathedral” (which I agree is great but not as great as “A Small Good Thing”) and Stuart Dybek’s “Pet Milk” (which I’ve never read, but which is in the mail).
Here’re a few suggestions, and a few annotated lists:
Reagan says that Edith Wharton’s “Roman Fever” is “absolutely perfect”.
John L. favors “an Irish slant for favorite short stories”, and suggests Frank O’Connor’s “Guests of the Nation” and William Trevor’s “The Day We Got Drunk on Cake”.
The glamorous Pia Z. Ehrhardt suggests Eudora Welty’s “No Place For You, My Love,” and in so doing, reminds me that I’d forgotten somehow about Welty. Shame on me.
Kelly C. puts in a vote for almost anything by George Garrett, but specifically, “That Old Army Game”, “The Witness”, “An Evening Performance”, and “The Wounded Soldier”. I must confess I’ve never read Garrett, although it seems I ought to.
Kate S. suggests Delmore Schwartz’s duly famous “In Dreams Begin Responsibilities”. I agree this is a lovely story. I tried to teach it once, but talking about it only seemed to obscure it even more. Some stories – and I found this to be true of the Agee I mentioned last week – shouldn’t really be explained too much.
Nicholas R. sends in this gorgeous list:
One that springs to mind appeared in the New Yorker a few years back and is called “Lunch at the Loyola Arms” by Stuart Dybek. I haven’t read anything else by him but that story really did it for me. A young guy in his 20s makes sandwiches, makes love to his girlfriend and lives with eccentrics. Others I have loved include:
The Smoker by David Schickler
The Black Monk by Anton Chekhov
Martha, Martha by Zadie Smith
The Question of Bruno by Aleksandar Hemon
Killing Babies & Tooth & Claw by T.C. Boyle
Neversink by David Benioff
anything by William Boyd
And Nicholas K sends in this list. I think we have similar tastes:
Denis Johnson – “Work.” Something about stripping the copper wiring from an abandoned house really got to me.
Wells Tower – “Everything Ravaged, Everything Burned.” First published in Fence a few years ago, this is now readily accessible in THE ANCHOR BOOK OF NEW AMERICAN SHORT STORIES. Tower’s control of language is remarkable, and the last few paragraphs just rip the copper wiring out of me all over again.
Steve Almond – “The Pass.” Steve’s got his detractors, but this story rings true. Warning: story enthusiasts may not appreciate this one because it reads more like an essay.
Raymond Carver – “A Serious Talk” and “Call If You Need Me.”
Heidi Julavitis – “Mary the One Who Gets There First.” Originally in Esquire, then reprinted in BEST AMERICAN, 1999. This one taught me a lot about narrative structure.
Stuart Dybek – “Pet Milk.” The swirling imagery is fantastic here, and so tightly fused to the plot.
Julie Orringer – “Pilgrims”
George Saunders – I’m a sucker for almost anything this guy writes. You suggestions are among my faves, but his newer stuff ain’t that bad either. Try “Brad Carrigan, American” from Harper’s earlier this year. Or “Adams” and “Bohemians,” both of which were in The New Yorker last year.
F. Scott Fitzgerald – Find “Outside the Cabinet-Maker’s.” Fitzgerald said that all good writing is swimming under water and holding your breath.” This story exemplifies that theory.