Was going to label this topic Best Short Story but realised that it shouldn't descend to some sort of competition. Anyhow two of my favourites, possibly a little predictable.
Death in Venice by Thomas Mann - the story of a rather self important man going to pieces over his obsessive love of a young boy (it is presented as a love for the boys beauty rather than sexual desire). The background is a pandemic fever in Venice which the authorities are loath to admit. The film with Dirk Bogarde as the lead is also definitely worth a watch.
Boule de Suif by Guy de Maupassant-the story of a prostitute travelling in a coach with some snooty passengers who look down on her and rebuff her until the coach is captured by invading Prussian soldiers and then the snooty passengers want her to give sexual favours so that they can escape but she refuses.
Last year a friend gave me an anthology called Tenth of December by George Saunders. It's brilliant (but quite dark). Possibly my favourite is called Exhortation, and it's a memo to staff from a middle-manager in a futuristic corporation that does some unspecified, unsavoury business. Very, very good.
Neil LaBute, who's a playwright and filmmaker (I'm a big fan of his films, but they are an acquired taste), has an anthology too. I think it was good.
The Dead, from Dubliners by James Joyce. The final image of the snow falling silently through the universe, on the living and the dead alike, has stayed with me ever since I first read it about fifty years ago.
> Neil LaBute, who's a playwright and filmmaker (I'm a big fan of his films, but they are an acquired taste), has an anthology too. I think it was good.
That’s interesting, I didn’t know. Thanks
The Next in Line by Ray Bradbury. Dreadfully downbeat and all the more marvellous for it. Not sci fi or fantasy. An American couple with marital tensions are on a road trip through Mexico. Car engine trouble flares up. They are short of cash. The wife falls very ill....and what happens next is very callous but leaves you asking “well what would I do”. Very short story
I think, for me, Steinbeck's "of mice and men" although I want to say that Roald Dahl wrote one about an accountant who went Marlin fishing in the Indian ocean and never went home again. I might have the author wrong and I can't remember the title but it resonated with me.
Nightfall by Asimov
Classic extra planetary apocalyptic sci-fi spanning deep time, planetary astronomy, archaeology, politics and psychology. Impressive scope for a short story.
Some of Italo Calvino's short stories are excellent but I think it has to be Borges for me. Not sure I could name a No.1 though.
The Open Window by Saki.
But really, almost anything by Saki could be a contender.
One day in the life of Ivan Denisovtch by Alexsander Solzhenitzyen. Incredible short story of life in the Russian Gulag.
How short is a short story? There are some novellas and short novels being suggested now!
This is a great one, tiny, efficient, fierce, and almost timeless. I read it in 2016 during the Trump campaign, which seemed very apt!
> How short is a short story? There are some novellas and short novels being suggested now!
A bit difficult to define but I would say a maximum of about a hundred pages. With most short stories there isn't much character developement and seem to be involved with getting a single point across e.g my two examples
Death in Venice-Message is don't get too smug with your life because you never know what could be around the corner. Well thats my interpretation.
Boule de Suif- Its about the integrity of the prostitute and lack of in her fellow travellers.
Nightfall is indeed brilliant, and I also love The Nine Billion Names of God.
But of all his short stories, I'd pick The Last Question.
I've got two by Stephen King: "The Jaunt" and "Battleground" (I think they appear in Skeleton Crew, but could be wrong)
There's also "Other People" by Neil Gaiman which is in Fragile Things. Love it. Time is fluid here...
I love Jack London's "To Build a Fire" - the creeping sense of impending doom and desperation in the face of dispassionate nature is fab!
'Bears Discover Fire', by Terry Bisson. Quirky brilliance, beautifully done in tone and style. Nominally science fiction, but really about family relationships and humanity's relationship with the land. And bears too...
I would put 'Where the Wild Things Are' and 'The Tiger who came to Tea' into the powerful, memorable short story camp.
Failing that, the Russians are the best, Gogol, Pushkin etc. Or maybe Borges.
Angela Carter's 'The Bloody Chamber' is a stunning collection of reworking of ideas from traditional fairy tales centred around aspects of desire and sexuality. I'd be hard-put to pick a favourite, but it's probably 'The Lady of the House of Love'... but now I come to think of it, 'The Tiger's Bride' is brilliant too. And then there's... !
'The Picture of Dorian Gray' by Oscar Wilde. Beautifully descriptive writing; one can feel the quality of the starched linen table cloths and smell the pungent-sweet inside of his silver cigarette case as he caressingly opens it. It is a dream of a book and it doesn't force anything upon the reader, but you know very well what's going on in the delicate actions and indirect seemingly lazy conversations; there is a raging howling beast just askew of the delicately scented arrangement of freesias. It is a delicious read. Enjoy it with a stick of celery and some fresh crackling buttery french bread.
I'm not a big reader of short stories, but a few years ago I was recommended Jack London's "To Build a Fire".
It lives with me every time I'm post-holing through a walk-in..
Carbon by Primo Levi.
Tried linking to a PDF but the link wasn't working. A PDF comes up if you google Carbon Primo Levi.
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Flowers for Algernon, a sci-fi short by Daniel Keyes. A man with a mental age of around 5 is bullied at work, despite his mild temperament. He undergoes an experimental procedure to enhance intelligence, which works spectacularly. Too spectacularly. He ends up 'dumbing down' his conversation to get on a level with the PhD-holding object of his affection, but she's unable to follow his explanation of the mathematical structure of Bach's Quartets. It gets worse.... This is a story that actually made me cry.
Pat Cadigan, The Power and the Passion. The US government (the FBI? It's never clear) are handling murders they can't admit to, because they're committed by vampires. The person they use to kill the vampires is a sadistic psychopath. Sounds cheesy but isn't - the writing is intelligent, economical and compelling, and the focus is not on gore or vampires, it's on the mind of the FBI's 'weapon'.
For sheer brevity, this one by Ernest Hemingway takes some beating-"For sale, baby shoes, never worn"
Any of Kipling’s Just So stories.
or Tomia of the Elephants from the Jungle book
Wasn't that the result of a bet? I heard that ages ago and it has stuck with me ever since.
Another of my favourites: Entropy by the modernist master, Thomas Pynchon. It features one of the wildest parties to be found in fiction anywhere and is a great introduction to Pynchon's utterly distinctive style. Anyone who gets through the cruxes on this may be hard enough to climb one of the literary mountains like Gravity's Rainbow or Against The Day.
> Wasn't that the result of a bet? I heard that ages ago and it has stuck with me ever since.
So legend has it. I think there may be some doubt. But it's a great story - in both senses.
A second vote for Saki, bloke was a great writer as well as a pretty interesting character. My own favourite short story though is by Thom Jones, "A pugilist at rest". Brilliant but accessible writing and a story that pulls you in.
The jury appears to be still out on that....https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/For_sale:_baby_shoes,_never_worn
> 'Bears Discover Fire', by Terry Bisson. Quirky brilliance, beautifully done in tone and style. Nominally science fiction, but really about family relationships and humanity's relationship with the land. And bears too...
A classic, I agree.
I also love his "They're made out of meat"
HG Wells " The Country of the Blind" is a chilling work. Best read without spoilers...
I recall being affected by the original novelette / short story version of Blood Music by Greg Bear (not read it since then though, so might be awful!). Alice Sheldon, writing as James Tiptree, wrote lots of very provoking short stories. The Screwfly Solution is brilliant and haunting. Her Smoke Rose Up Forever is a good collection of her works; although, as so many of them are howls of rage about how all men are awful, I did find that reading it all in a single push became a little wearing.
Excellent, very funny!
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