May is Short Story Month, so I’ll keep this brief: here is a list of the some of the collections that I’ve read in recent months (even though most of them weren’t officially dedicated to the form).
Between these books, there are scores of different plots, themes, and voices. Some collections are laser-focused on a few characters or locations, others are grand cacophonies, but they all share the premise that in fiction, as in so much else, the whole is greater than the sum of its disparate parts. Just how the stories in each collection “converse” with each other is up to the individual, and that lends a unique pleasure to the reading experience.
I wouldn’t call this a horror collection, but it is shot through with dread. Ordinary situations give rise to fears that those closest to us might be our greatest threats. Seong-nan Ha’s stories are set in a variety of fascinating milieus across South Korea; always fascinating and sometimes terrifying.
The great, underappreciated Randall Keenan died just after this collection was published, so he never got to see it longlisted for the National Book Award. Still, that sadness won’t overpower your reading of these stories, because they’re big-hearted enough to contain it alongside the thousand other deep feelings that Kenan worked into this remarkable collection that primarily focuses on Black, queer characters in the American South.
Elizabeth McCracken is a real writer’s writer, as this collection (also longlisted for the National Book Award) clearly demonstrates. From each story’s meticulous construction, to the careful blend of quotidian and absurd situations, to the sentence-by-sentence control she has over character and reader alike, McCracken is a master.
To an interested outsider, the scope of Chinese life and history can seem overwhelming. Land of Big Numbers doesn’t counteract that sense; instead, it makes clear that the same is true of many interested insiders, too. Te-Ping Chen’s debut collection covers a broad range of styles, from absurdism to closely-observed realism, but they are all freighted with the fear of getting lost in the crowd.
Chris Struck’s debut collection is full of satire with a bite. Perceptions and performances of race and masculinity are carefully examined and then sharply elbowed. Give My Love to the Savages is particularly good at calibrating style to maximize the effect that the characters’ dilemmas have on the reader. And they do leave their mark.
This debut collection is also sadly posthumous, but it is more than enough to create a proud legacy for Anthony Veasna So. The stories all center on members of the Cambodian diaspora in central California. So’s understanding of the weight of intergenerational trauma lies just beneath of the surface at all times, and it underscores all the ups and downs that his characters experience in this vibrant book.
This collection is really a triumph of voice. Many of the stories are narrated by the title character as he grows up chubby and queer among migrant farm workers in 1970s California. Cortez is able to use that perspective to convey the dangers and rewards of community, with insight and generosity.
This collection, by contrast, is a triumph of place. Maurice Carlos Ruffin gives a free-wheeling tour of his native New Orleans, with a wry sense of humor. The stories range in tone, but the author’s ear for the musicality of language is always present.
This book is either a collection of closely related short stories, or it’s a novel-in-stories. (There’s no subtitle, so I guess we’ll never know for sure.) The distinction isn’t particularly relevant, other than to highlight just how much these stories work together to draw a fuller picture about these two women and their complicated, decades-long friendship. Jean Chen Ho is able to do both: tell stories that are satisfyingly complete on their own, but that also cohere into a larger, richer narrative when considered together.
A collection of flash fiction that includes work by 40 immigrant and first-generation immigrant writers, this is one of those cacophonies I referred to above, but despite being the only work on this list to have multiple authors, these short glimpses into the immigrant experience work together to tell a larger story about a human resilience that crosses every border.
Kim Fu’s collection uses a fusion of magical realism and science fiction to expose emotional truths. That description might make this book sound angry or clinical, but I think it’s the exact opposite. There are many sharp edges throughout these stories, but they’re present in the service of finding humanity, even if pushing characters to extremes is the only way to do it.
Leigh Newman’s debut focuses on women in Alaska, operating in the often rough-and-tumble environments that are stereotypically associated with men. The stories all have a way of confounding many preconceived notions while also illustrating their enduring, pernicious effects. From the wilds of the Alaskan bush to the shag carpets of Anchorage in the ‘70s, this impressive collection is always sure-footed.
I’ll end this list with the collection that is probably both the angriest and the funniest. And with good reason! The condescension, deprivation, and persecution that women throughout time have been faced with is often lampooned, but it is also always deeply felt in these absurd and jagged tales.
Looking for more short story recommendations? Check out this list of 7 recommendations based on 7 well-loved collections. Or, if you're feeling inspired and want to write a short story of your own, we recommend any of these craft books.