I hope you enjoyed the posts during And Other Stories week! If you did, please let me know, as I’d love to schedule something similar with fresh reviews in future. To end the week, please find below a selection of ten short story collections which I absolutely adore, and would highly recommend to everyone. I have excluded all of the authors whose reviews I shared last week, just for variety, but I would – of course – highly recommend that you go and pick up everything by Mansfield and Jansson!
1. Not the End of the World by Kate Atkinson
‘Not the End of the World is Kate Atkinson’s first collection of short stories. Playful and profound, they explore the world we think we know whilst offering a vision of another world which lurks just beneath the surface of our consciousness, a world where the myths we have banished from our lives are startlingly present and where imagination has the power to transform reality. From Charlene and Trudi, obsessively making lists while bombs explode softly in the streets outside, to gormless Eddie, maniacal cataloguer of fish, and Meredith Zane who may just have discovered the secret to eternal life, each of these stories shows that when the worlds of material existence and imagination collide, anything is possible.’
2. The Complete Stories by Flannery O’Connor
‘The publication of this extraordinary volume firmly established Flannery O’Connor’s monumental contribution to American fiction. There are thirty-one stories here in all, including twelve that do not appear in the only two story collections O’Connor put together in her short lifetime – Everything That Rises Must Converge and A Good Man Is Hard to Find. O’Connor published her first story, “The Geranium, ” in 1946 while she was working on her master’s degree at the University of Iowa. This Book, which is arranged chronologically, shows that her last story, “Judgement Day, ” sent to her publisher shortly before her death, is a brilliantly rewritten and transfigured version of “The Geranium.” Taken together, these reveal an amazing lively, imaginative, and penetrating talent that has given us some of the most powerful and disturbing fiction written this century.’
3. A Haunted House by Virginia Woolf
‘The stories found in A Haunted House reflect Virginia Woolf’s experimental writing style and act as an enlightening introduction to the longer fiction of this pioneer novelist. Gathering works from the previously published Monday or Tuesday, as well as stories published in American and British magazines, this book compiles some of the best shorter fiction of one of the most important writers of our time.‘
4. The First Person and Other Stories by Ali Smith
‘‘The First Person and Other Stories’ effortlessly appeals to our hearts, heads and funny bones. Always intellectually playful, but also very moving and funny, Smith explores the ways and whys of storytelling.‘
5. Interpreter of Maladies by Jhumpa Lahiri
‘Mr. Kapasi, the protagonist of Jhumpa Lahiri’s title story, would certainly have his work cut out for him if he were forced to interpret the maladies of all the characters in this eloquent debut collection. Take, for example, Shoba and Shukumar, the young couple in “A Temporary Matter” whose marriage is crumbling in the wake of a stillborn child. Or Miranda in “Sexy,” who is involved in a hopeless affair with a married man. But Mr. Kapasi has problems enough of his own; in addition to his regular job working as an interpreter for a doctor who does not speak his patients’ language, he also drives tourists to local sites of interest. His fare on this particular day is Mr. and Mrs. Das–first-generation Americans of Indian descent–and their children. During the course of the afternoon, Mr. Kapasi becomes enamored of Mrs. Das and then becomes her unwilling confidant when she reads too much into his profession. “I told you because of your talents,” she informs him after divulging a startling secret.
I’m tired of feeling so terrible all the time. Eight years, Mr. Kapasi, I’ve been in pain eight years. I was hoping you could help me feel better; say the right thing. Suggest some kind of remedy.
Of course, Mr. Kapasi has no cure for what ails Mrs. Das–or himself. Lahiri’s subtle, bittersweet ending is characteristic of the collection as a whole. Some of these nine tales are set in India, others in the United States, and most concern characters of Indian heritage. Yet the situations Lahiri’s people face, from unhappy marriages to civil war, transcend ethnicity. As the narrator of the last story, “The Third and Final Continent,” comments: “There are times I am bewildered by each mile I have traveled, each meal I have eaten, each person I have known, each room in which I have slept.” In that single line Jhumpa Lahiri sums up a universal experience, one that applies to all who have grown up, left home, fallen in or out of love, and, above all, experienced what it means to be a foreigner, even within one’s own family. (less)‘
6. Cities I’ve Never Lived In by Sara Majka
‘In subtle, sensuous prose, the stories in Sara Majka’s debut collection explore distance in all its forms: the emotional spaces that open up between family members, friends, and lovers; the gaps that emerge between who we were and who we are; the gulf between our private and public selves. At the center of the collection is a series of stories narrated by a young American woman in the wake of a divorce; wry and shy but never less than open to the world, she recalls the places and people she has been close to, the dreams she has pursued and those she has left unfulfilled. Interspersed with these intimate first-person stories are stand-alone pieces where the tight focus on the narrator’s life gives way to closely observed accounts of the lives of others. A book about belonging, and how much of yourself to give up in the pursuit of that, Cities I’ve Never Lived In offers stories that reveal, with great sadness and great humor, the ways we are most of all citizens of the places where we cannot be.‘
7. All the Days and Nights: Collected Stories by William Maxwell
‘In settings that range from small town Illinois to the Upper East Side of Manhattan, these stories are distinguished by Maxwell’s inimitable wisdom and kindness, his sense of the small details that make up a life, the nuances of joy and sadness that change its direction. Whether describing the reunion of two brothers who will never agree, the furniture of the apartment that becomes everything to a childless couple, the search for the perfect French meal or the life of a ne’er-do-well uncle, Maxwell’s stories capture responses that are recognisable in us all.‘
8. The Unfinished World and Other Stories by Amber Sparks
‘In the weird and wonderful tradition of Kelly Link and Karen Russell, Amber Sparks’s dazzling new collection bursts forth with stories that render the apocalyptic and otherworldly hauntingly familiar. In “The Cemetery for Lost Faces,” two orphans translate their grief into taxidermy, artfully arresting the passage of time. The anchoring novella, “The Unfinished World,” unfurls a surprising love story between a free and adventurous young woman and a dashing filmmaker burdened by a mysterious family. Sparks’s stories—populated with sculptors, librarians, astronauts, and warriors—form a veritable cabinet of curiosities. Mythical, bizarre, and deeply moving, The Unfinished World and Other Stories heralds the arrival of a major writer and illuminates the search for a brief encounter with the extraordinary.‘
9. The Lottery and Other Stories by Shirley Jackson
‘The Lottery, one of the most terrifying stories written in this century, created a sensation when it was first published in The New Yorker. “Power and haunting,” and “nights of unrest” were typical reader responses. This collection, the only one to appear during Shirley Jackson’s lifetime, unites “The Lottery:” with twenty-four equally unusual stories. Together they demonstrate Jackson’s remarkable range–from the hilarious to the truly horrible–and power as a storyteller.‘
10. Dear Life by Alice Munro
‘With her peerless ability to give us the essence of a life in often brief but spacious and timeless stories, Alice Munro illumines the moment a life is shaped — the moment a dream, or sex, or perhaps a simple twist of fate turns a person out of his or her accustomed path and into another way of being. Suffused with Munro’s clarity of vision and her unparalleled gift for storytelling, these stories (set in the world Munro has made her own: the countryside and towns around Lake Huron) about departures and beginnings, accidents, dangers, and homecomings both virtual and real, paint a vivid and lasting portrait of how strange, dangerous, and extraordinary the ordinary life can be.‘
Which of these have you read? Which collections would make your top ten?