Short Fiction

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Short Fiction

1lisapeet
Jul 17, 2020, 1:08pm

A thread to talk about short stories in collections, anthologies, journals and magazines, you name it. Novellas welcome too.

2Pat_D
Editado: Jul 23, 2020, 6:15am

Although I haven't kept up with the most recently published ss collections, I'm a big fan of the genre. I truly believe it's the most difficult format to pull off successfully and the third-best path toward developing legit writerly skills (the 1st best path? Read, of course. Great writers were almost all voracious readers, the 2nd best path? A strong friendship with The Bedford Handbook.).

A post I read here not too long ago (I forget, was it Julie?), sparked my interest in reading some Sherlock Holmes stories. I'm not crazy about mystery/crime fiction, but I've always wanted to know what makes Doyle's characters so enduring. I have 2 very old and decrepit collections on my shelves, but I wasn't sure where to start, so I Googled "Sherlock Holmes best stories." Heh. There were plenty of suggestions, but I'm going with the one who wrote that "A Study in Scarlet" was the best place to start. He/she noted that this is where the reader is introduced to all (or most of) the important characters and background stuff that informs everything that follows. So, I'm going with the recommendation to start with the beginning. It's rather long; more like a novella, and for anyone interested there's online texts here:

A Study in Scarlet ~ by Arthur Conan Doyle

3alans
Jul 18, 2020, 10:32pm

Thanks Lisapeet..my favourite genre. What would we do without the great Larry Dark?
I am crazy about novellas and if anyone knows of some recent ones (not Heart of Darkness please) I’d love to hear about them. I think the last collection I read was by Andre Dubus jr.. and it was so-so.
Has anyone checked out the guest editors for this fall’s Bass?
I think the art director must have been on drugs when she/he/them produced the latest cover. Yikes!
I mentioned earlier that I can find no information on the 2020 O.Henry Prize stories and they usually come out in September. So I looked up Laura Furman and sent off an email. I wonder if the series is discontinued after last year’s 100th anniversary.
Will report back if she gets back to me.
Was supposed to start a brand new collection by an Atlantic Canada writer today,I believe a story a day is just right,but I’m immersed in a novel rght now.

4alans
Jul 18, 2020, 11:08pm

I was just going over a list of #great#novellas and I came across Breakfast at Tiffany’s. I had wanted to read the book for decades-who doesn’t love the song Moon River and I’ve actually heard brilliant versions of it played on the accordion-but the book was so dreadful and so irritating. For years I’ve heard that the film ruins the book but this was such a piece of crap. Holly Golightly is the worst,most pretentious,vacuous character ever written about and the fact that every man desperately wants to sleep with her might have been cool in the fifties,but today it is just gross. Terrible book,couldn’t finish it.

5krolik
Jul 19, 2020, 4:23am

>4 alans:
Agree that "Breakfast at Tiffany's" hasn't aged well but don't give up on Capote. Have you read "A Christmas Memory"? Definitely worth a look. A longish story, maybe a novella by today's standards.

6krolik
Jul 19, 2020, 4:41am

I quite like George Saunders and I think Pastoralia is his best collection. But he already gets a lot of attention.

Regarding less well-known writers: I enjoyed Stephanie Dickinson's recent story collection, Flashlight Girls Run.

And for flash fiction, Today is the Day That Will Matter by Debra Di Blasi is very good. Rather political, but I don't see that as a problem.

7mnleona
Editado: Jul 19, 2020, 7:54am

I have The Original Illustrated Sherlock Holmes by Arthur Conan Doyle. There are 37 short stories and a complete novel from The Strand Magazine.

8alans
Jul 19, 2020, 9:09am

Thank-you Krolik,I will write the titles down. I love crime fiction but I never thought until a week ago that I would ever want to touch Doyle. I heard a podcast about him and he became more appealing to me.

I googled novella ,particularly contemporary and there isn’t much information out there. Wikipedia is very good but all of the other searches point to sci fi for some reason. Penguin has a large series of novellas which I’ve never heard of. But it is very difficult to find any from the last fifty years.
The only useful list was novellas written by contemporary women. Doris Lessing,Muriel Spark,Francine Prose all wrote novellas. I didn’t know Prime of Miss Brody would be considered a novella. The only one I read was Claire Messud’s The Hunters. I had wanted to read it for years but when I finally got to it I found it very ineffective. Listopia also has a long list of novellas but it’s the usual gang-Animal Farm,Metamorphisis .I also didn’t know Camus’s The Stranger is considered a novella.

9Pat_D
Editado: Jul 19, 2020, 12:52pm

I was a big fan of Flash Fiction but haven't seen much it around, lately. Thanks for the rec.

Every time someone mentions Flash Fiction, the story that immediately comes to my mind is the unforgettable Esquire story Incarnations of Burned Children by David Foster Wallace. Be forewarned: it's not for the faint-of-heart, but it's one of those stories that left a permanent imprint upon my brain.

10Tess_W
Editado: Jul 19, 2020, 1:01pm

One of my favorite non-fiction anthologies is The American Reader: Words That Moved a Nation. Everything is in this book from Benjamin Franklin to Betty Friedan.

A current anthology that I liked was Anthony Doerr's The Shell Collector: Stories which are short stories about African life.

>9 Pat_D: I'm going to try to secure Burned Children, it is not the first time I've heard of this.

11krolik
Jul 19, 2020, 1:28pm

>8 alans:
Novellas don't get as much attention because magazines and book publishers find them hard to sell. So, comparatively, fewer novellas get published.

Generic definitions are pretty elastic, too. They change over generations. At the end of the 19th century, Henry James' "The Turn of the Screw" was considered a short story. Now (at about 42,000 words) it would be marketed as a novel.

Nowadays, a novella is generally between 15,000 and 30,000 words.

I mentioned Saunders' collection Pastoralia above. The book is mainly short stories, but it also contains a novella of the same name, "Pastoralia," which is one of my favorite pieces of writing by a living author.

Another very interesting contemporary novella is Jennifer Egan's "Black Box." It came out in The New Yorker a few years ago and you can still read it for free online.

12Pat_D
Jul 19, 2020, 1:29pm

I'm pretty sure I have the Doerr on my shelves somewhere, but I never got around to it. I'll check.

13lisapeet
Editado: Jul 19, 2020, 3:35pm

Ooh, so much action here!

>2 Pat_D: Pat, the only Conan Doyle I've read is from those giant Sherlock Holmes anthologies, I think two volumes, that my dad bought me when I was a kid. That was the kind of thing he loved to get me, his little literary protegee. I'm pretty sure I read them all the way through, but I can't recall if "A Study in Scarlet" was in there. Let us know what you think, and/or maybe I'll check it out too.

>3 alans: The Granta Book of the American Long Story is a good look at some (by now) American canon novella work, and has a good intro about the history of the novella by Richard Ford. With the caveat that this collection is almost 17 years old, and—as clearly stated—American writing only, with no major surprises, it's a nice intro to the form. Melville House's Art of the Novella series has some good stuff too. I haven't gotten my hands on either the print copy or e-galleys of BASS or O. Henry Prize Stories 2020... One of the few things I miss about being in the physical office is being able to pick up books and see what I like. But yeah, that cover is no improvement on the series, as staid and unimaginative as they are. I think drugs—at least the right ones—would have made for something much more interesting.

I haven't even read last year's BASS, speaking of Anthony Doerr (who edited it) >10 Tess_W:. I haven't read The Shell Collector, but I loved Memory Wall (and always get the two confused because Memory Wall has shells on the front cover).

>6 krolik: I'm not familiar with either of those two latter authors. I'll keep my eye out.

14alans
Jul 19, 2020, 5:10pm

Planning on writing down all of the titles mentioned and will definitely read the Jennifer Egan. I’m skipping this week’s Marilyn Robinson in the Nyer because I don’t enjoy reading excerpts. I’ve read maybe four stories from the Times Decameron issue and so far I’m blown away. The intro by Rivka Galchen is excellent and the first story in the collection just knocked my sandals off. Very good collection so far. I just really don’t like the lettering. I find the titles of each of the stories hard to read.
On to read some more now. Some of these stories will be definite contenders for Bass 2021. I inagine Heidi Pitolar is having a ball.

15alans
Jul 19, 2020, 5:45pm

Ok I know it’s best to contain my enthusiasm,but I’ve just read another of the Decameron stories-Clinical Thoughts and I am completely bowled over. I have no doubt this story will one day be anthologized ,just a stunner. Reminds me of Lorie Moore’s very famous story about the child who has cancer.
This happened to me again and it never happens when I read a novel,but when I see I’m about a paragraph from the end of the story I put on the brakes as if I am driving a car down a mountain,because I know by now that the author is going to gob-smack me with the final sentences. Bravo!

Ok I’ll shut up now.

16lisapeet
Jul 19, 2020, 5:51pm

Alan, never shut up, please! I love your commentary. And now I really have to dig into the Decameron collection.

17alans
Jul 19, 2020, 11:48pm

You’re very kind Lisapeet.,and as said last year you’re my go to person for the newest short fiction.
Read one more story-by Tommy Orange-very good and terribly sad. All of the stories are sad and full of feelings of helplessness

18Tess_W
Jul 20, 2020, 2:04am

Battleborn by Claire Watkins is also a good book of short stories. There is about a 30 page novella in there about the 1848 Nevada silver or gold rush and also a short story about her father's relationship to the Manson gang...those are the two that stuck out to me.

19lisapeet
Jul 20, 2020, 7:51am

>18 Tess_W: Agreed about Battleborn—she really came out of the gate swinging on that one. It won The Story Prize in 2013, out of a trio of really strong contenders (Junot Diaz, Dan Chaon), and I think another couple of awards. She had on the most fabulous green dress, too.

20alans
Jul 21, 2020, 1:21am

Battleborn has been on my list for years as it was spoken very highly of here or in Readerville for a long time. I think Andrea——she writes historical stories,writes novellas.
For fans of Phil Kaly and I thought his first collection was brutal and fascinating,he’s coming out with his first novel this fall. It’s about a country in South America. I wish him best of luck but isn’t this the sad pattern-come out with a successful collection and then move on to a first novel. I don’t know if there are many writers apart from Alice Munro who devoted their entire career to writing short fiction. I know one collection is called a novel-but it’s a collection off stories with the same characters. No matter how hard they tried to market it as a novel,it was still a book of short stories.

21krolik
Jul 21, 2020, 11:42am

>14 alans:
Egan's novella "Black Box" is written as a series of tweets. It feels a little strange at first but once you get into the rhythm, it works.

22alans
Jul 22, 2020, 10:32pm

Krolik..thus was my problem with this novella. I’m a very straight narrative type of guy which is why I really don’t like George Saunders. Saunders’ narratives are conventionally relayed but all the absurdity is too far out for me. I will return to the Prose(?) at some point but right now after suffering debilitating reader’s block for over a year,I just want a good yarn. But thank-you for pointing out the novella to me. I can’t imagine when the Nyer published a piece of fiction this long. Maybe Zaidie Smith’s story?
As for the Nyer..remember when they would publish four Updikes or Beatties in one year? I don’t think they repeat any short story writers anymore.

23lmbix
Editado: Jul 24, 2020, 2:36pm

I think Anthony Doerr is a master of the form! Loved both Shell Collector and Memory Wall.

24alans
Jul 24, 2020, 8:10pm

Very much on my list,heard all praise for his work.

25Pat_D
Jul 31, 2020, 10:27pm

I'm taking this with me for intermittent, quick reads during the storm--> Alligator ~ by Dima Alzayat. I read a couple of intriguing reviews that sold me on it.

26Pat_D
Ago 4, 2020, 2:31pm

I wound up binge-reading Alligator. Alzayat is an undeniable talent. One to keep on your radar. These 9 stories, scenes from Muslim life, are ridiculously current without being the slightest bit preachy or angsty.

"Daughters of Manāt" are fiercely unorthodox women and their refusals to cave under oppressive tradition whose stories open with a casually narrated jump out of a window.

"Disappearance" is a Muslim "Leave it to Beaver" episode that turns into a cruel shocker.

"Only Those Who Struggle Succeed" describes a poor, young intern's ambitions in the entertainment industry, a quid pro quo hierarchy, and sexual assault in an extraordinarily authentic and wise voice.

"In the Land of Kan'an" or one Muslim's closet life.

"Alligator" is a non-linear, historical review of some of the most horrific American treatments of her immigrants, inspired and anchored by a true Florida lynching at the turn of the 20th century.

"Summer of the Shark" is one morning at a random phone bank whose camaraderie is stung by the events of 9/11 as they transpire on the company's TV screen.

"Once We Were Syrians" or the fickle fate of power in an authoritarian regime.

"A Girl in Three Acts" follows a wise-cracking, jaded adolescent Muslim girl orphaned in America.

All of these stories are written with an acute observation that's interwoven with a delicate, humane hand, but it's the opener that left me deeply affected. "Ghusl" is a sister's "sinful" appropriation of her brother's postmortem care after his sudden, violent death. Her refusal to let any strangers' hands perform the intimate rituals does not anticipate the paralyzing grief she must overcome. Poignant memories of a closeness borne from much tragedy accompany and enable her while they inform the reader. This story will stay with me a long time, a former ICU nurse, who was all too familiar with that sad, reverent task.

Highly recommended.

27lisapeet
Ago 4, 2020, 3:23pm

I haven't even heard of this one, but will definitely keep my eye out now. Thanks, Pat.

28alans
Ago 4, 2020, 8:20pm

I have a hold on Alligator at the library.

I just finished a new collection called A Dark House and Other Stories by ian Colford.
Most of the stories in this collection are exceptional,as good as they get,but three are such clunkers that it’s hard to love the book in whole now. The author says some of the stories were written 24 years ago and it shows. This isn’t supposed to be a collected works and the really bad stories sadly diminish the great ones. After quite a few gasps by the beauty and brilliance of the writing,a few should have been left back in time.

29laurenbufferd
Ago 5, 2020, 2:35pm

Me too - those sound right up my alley, Pat.

30alans
Ago 15, 2020, 7:06pm

I have forty years of the Nyer at home,which I’ve never read. A neurosis of mine.
But this afternoon I read the current fiction and I thought it was just fantastic. Reads like a short story but could very well be an excerpt from a forthcoming novel. Very exciting stuff.

31lisapeet
Ago 16, 2020, 9:39am

Which issue, alan? I'm chronically behind as well.

32alans
Ago 17, 2020, 7:16pm

It is last week,this week should be out tomorrow. The date is-August 17. Wonderful,long treat.

33alans
Editado: Ago 21, 2020, 4:05pm

I had written to the editor Laura Furnan of the O’Henry Prize stories because there is no information on an upcoming release. They always precede the BASS which has a release date of November. She kindly wrote me back and said last year,the 100th year was her last as editor and that she would pass on my inquiry to the publisher. Looks like they may be closing shop or are delaying the next volume because someone would have had to read those stories. I always found the O’Henrys and Bass has quite different stories which is interesting.

34alans
Editado: Ago 24, 2020, 8:50pm

Sometimes I’ll read a short story or if lucky, a collection of stories and it feels like what people experience when they hear a wonderful piece of music.
Most of the stories in David Bergen’s newish collection of short fiction are unfortunately not very good. They’re bland and except for a few he doesn’t have a lot to say of interest. But the final work-a very long novella called Here the Dark has to be one of the most compelling and beautiful works I have read in a long time. Over and over again the story reminded me of Alice Munro,not in the complexity of her narratives-can anyone do what Munro does-but in the telling of a young woman isolated from her ignorant, small-minded community. Wonderful,very very beautiful.

35alans
Ago 26, 2020, 3:39pm

Just heard from O’Henry Prize story publishers. The editor Laura Furman has retired so there won’t be a new edition this year. They will reappear in 2021 with a new editor and title.

36lisapeet
Ago 27, 2020, 7:14am

Oh, that's too bad... I like the O. Henry collections, maybe even a little more than BASS.

I don't know David Bergen at all, but I'll at least check out "Here in the Dark." I just downloaded a galley of Best Canadian Stories 2020—haven't cracked it open yet (or whatever you do to ebooks), but the editor this year is Paige Cooper, whose Zolitude I read a couple of years ago and thought was very inventive and well done.

37alans
Ago 29, 2020, 8:56pm

I’ve never followed best Canadian but I need to. The big annual prize in Canada is the journey prize. James Michener donated all of his earnings of the novel Journeys to create this prize. It’s been running a long time.

38lisapeet
Sep 19, 2020, 4:33pm

OK, alan, I'm reading for LJ's best short stories 2020 now! So far I've read about half of the new Susan Minot, Why I Don't Write: And Other Stories, Jen Fawkes's Mannequin and Wife: Stories, and now on to the late Randall Kenan's If I Had Two Wings, which is a National Book Award finalist.

I have the week off and am going to mostly spend it reading, I think.

39laurenbufferd
Sep 22, 2020, 10:55am

I am finally reading Leskov's The Enchanted Wanderer 19th c Russian stories that are beautifully translated. They aren't short- more like novellas, but rich and strange and almost fairy tale like. Old Believers and icons that come to life, murderous wives and creepy servants and dense dense woods. So happy.

40lisapeet
Sep 22, 2020, 5:05pm

>39 laurenbufferd: Oh neat, I'll keep my eye out for that one... seems like the kind of thing that might show up at library sales when they exist again someday.

I very much liked, though maybe not loved, If I Had Two Wings, and am now enjoying Sarah Shun-lien Bynum's Likes.

41alans
Sep 26, 2020, 12:44am

The Leskov got huge praise.