The short story is a study in compression. In 10-15 pages (typically) we are introduced to a situation and one or more characters. Something then happens (or doesn’t happen) and we are left alone by the author just as we are about to settle in. In a well written short story, there is nothing on the page that doesn’t absolutely need to be there. Every sentence, every word even, has been vetted and set aside and put back in and moved around before finding its final correct spot. In our fast-paced, 140 characters per idea, sound-byte laden society, one would think that short stories would be the premiere structure for our written entertainment, but that simply does not seem to be the case.
Kirsten Reach discusses whether this year will be the year of the short story in this article, and concludes that despite a seeming rise in interest for the short story, people still prefer long novels.
Despite this, why not check out a collection of short stories for a change of pace? Here are a few collections that you can borrow from WPL, (and taking a cue from the best short story writers out there, I’m not saying anything else. Enjoy!)
One of Canada’s premiere short story writers is Alice Munro. She is also the 2013 recipient of the Nobel Prize for Literature as is described by the Nobel committee as “the master of the contemporary short story”. You could choose any number of her collections to start with, one of the stories from “Hateship, Friendship, Courtship, Loveship, Marriage” was made into the movie “Away from Her” by Sarah Polley in 2006, and more recently the title story was turned into a movie starring Kristin Wiig and Guy Pearce.
If you’re in the mood for the unexpected, you should really give George Saunders a try. His satirical stories are insightful studies of our own society’s shortfalls, but they are also really really funny. A favourite of mine is “Civilwarland in Bad Decline” which explores the sordid behind-the-scenes life of an American History inspired theme park. His most recent collection is “The Tenth of December“. His commencement address at Syracuse University, where he teaches English, made the rounds last year on the internet and you can read it here.
Jeffrey Archer is probably best known for his political thrillers and family dramas (not to mention that little stint in prison but we don’t like to talk about that). He’s also published a few delightful short story collections. “A Twist in the Tale” and “Twelve Red Herrings” are fun, but their conceit is given away in the titles. Each story ends with some sort of twist or surprise ending, so when you know that going into them, it gets a little “samey” after awhile.
Okay, I know I’ve talked about this author on this blog before, but you can’t talk about short stories without mentioning Ray Bradbury. To me, his stories are the perfect thing for a summer afternoon if you happen to find yourself with a few spare hours and a hammock somewhere. You can focus in on his haunting “Martian Chronicles” but for a “once over” you’d be better off checking out “Bradbury Stories: 100 of his most celebrated tales“.
I’d like to mention one last late addition to the list. “The Opposite of Loneliness: Essays and Stories” by Marina Keegan. Marina Keegan knew she wanted to be a writer from as long back as she could remember, and in May 2012 it looked like her career was about to take off. She had graduated from Yale, she had a play that was about to be produced at the New York International Fringe Festival and she had a job all lined up at the New Yorker magazine. Tragically, she was killed in car accident just five days after graduation at age 22. Her final essay for the Yale Daily News, titled “The Opposite of Loneliness”went viral and received over 1.4 million hits. This book, also called “The Opposite of Loneliness” is a mixture of some of her fictional short stories and non-fiction essays and has struck a chord with readers of all ages.
I’ve just touched the surface of short stories here, so if you have any favourite short stories or short story authors of your own, why not share them in the comments?