When I was much, much younger, I thought short stories were written by authors for the express purpose of giving English teachers something to assign their students as homework. I often dreaded reading them, the main reason being that their subject matter and tone were often quite a bit darker and more serious than those of my preferred escapist fantasy reads or Jane Austen satiric romances.
I don’t know which story—or which teacher—it was that finally changed my mind,* but after years of reading classics like Shirley Jackson’s “The Lottery,” Ursula K. Le Guin’s “The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas,” W. W. Jacobs’ “The Monkey’s Paw,” and Richard Connell’s “The Most Dangerous Game” (all of which, I’m sure you’re familiar with), I realized short stories are downright incredible. Some people call them “training wheels” for novels, but that’s a load of tosh. In a short story, a writer has to create a whole universe and make the reader feel something in a significantly smaller word count than a novel, and that is a difficult thing to do. It’s an exercise in brevity, and it is its own particular kind of craft. I have the utmost respect for the people who can do it well. (And maybe I also like short stories a bit better now that I’m older, a lot more critical of the world, and cynical about well…everything.)
These six collections are some of the most life-changing, mind-f***ing, just-short-of-crazy stories I’ve read in the last few years, and they will definitely elicit a reaction (if not many) from you too.
*I’m lying. I don’t know which teacher it was, but I’m almost 100% sure reading Ursula K. Le Guin’s “The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas” changed my young life many years ago.