There are a few famous sayings in the publishing industry. They float around reading rooms and editorial meetings, attributed to no one but well-known by the cut of their jib. One of them goes, “If you need to know now, the answer is no.” Another is: “No one reads short story collections.” Well. I’d like to invite you all to a collective eye rolling as I introduce you to eight, recently released short story collections that are simply fantastic. They range from serious and somber, to straight up wacky and weird, but each of them is an excellent example of literary fiction and wonderfully executed craft.
No one reads short story collections… Pfft!
Middle Men by Jim Gavin
(Simon & Schuster; February 19, 2013)
Middle Men author Jim Gavin examines the American dream — an elevation from mediocrity to something more — through the lives of the men in his stories. Each of Gavin’s protagonists is stuck somewhere in the middle, in that awkward stage of not-yet-there, and still far too close to the end. It’s a guy’s book in the very best way, unearthing vulnerability and ambition in a way that feels real and heartfelt. The pages of this debut collection turn over rapidly, and it’s as enjoyable as they come. Explore California and the harsh way it lures you in with dreams. Also, prepare yourself to crave Del Taco.
A Guide to Being Born by Ramona Ausubel
(Riverhead Hardcover; May 2, 2013)
This imaginative and creative collection is brimming with talent. Ausubel crafts wondrous tales, often otherwordly, which touch on a very real part of our lives. In personal favorite, “Tributaries” characters grow a new limb every time they fall in love. In the book’s opener, a group of grandmothers find themselves on a ship sailing to destinations unknown and with no knowledge of how they arrived on the ship or where they are going.
Battleborn by Claire Vaye Watkins
(Riverhead; August 2, 2012)
Battleborn was a late 2012 release, so technically we’re cheating, but this astounding debut collection should not be missed. Claire Vaye Watkins was named a National Book Foundation Top 5 Under 35 in 2012, and it’s easy to see why. In Battleborn, a very strong sense of place permeates her stories, as Watkins imagines histories for characters navigating the great American West. Watkins’ vast deserts and beautiful prose impress, but it is the characters who shine.
Bobcat and Other Stories by Rebecca Lee
(Algonquin Books; June 11, 2013)
Bobcat and Other Stories traverses difficult terrain, exposing readers to characters that are so compelling and flawed they cling to your bones. Lee accomplishes what many writers set out to achieve and cannot. By the end you are transfixed, educated on Lee’s perspective of the human condition, both heart broken and uplifted. Lee’s “Fialta,” won a National Magazine Award for Fiction, and is only one of the many accolades sure to come from this fantastic author.
Tenth of December by George Saunders
(Random House; January 8, 2013)
We’ve blogged about this collection before, specifically regarding “Victory Lap,” a story about a kidnapping told from the perspectives of the kidnapper, the abducted girl, and a neighborhood boy. Tenth of December is a group of stories that would falter in less-skilled hands, but with Saunders’ wit and observation, they positively glow. His work drips with expertise in craft and story-telling, proving that Saunders is a satirist and writer of the finest kind.
We Live in Water by Jess Walter
(Harper Perennial; February 12, 2013)
Career journalist Jess Walter give us a collection of short stories that is filled with dark humor. Northwest landscapes dominate stories about individuals who are homeless, criminal, or otherwise down and out. Walter examines these broken lives in a tender way, with a collection that is simply bursting with craft. His characters are convincing and humane. This is simply a must-read.
Vampires in the Lemon Grove by Karen Russell
(Knopf; February 12, 2013)
Pulitzer Prize nominee Karen Russell’s second book of short stories needs no introduction. As we’ve come to expect from Russell, her work is highly creative and off-beat, elevating ideas such as lemons as methadone for Vampires and a stable where ex-presidents are reincarnated into horses, to the highest level. Russell’s work has spear-headed an appreciation for short stories that are highly literary and all together weird, paving the way for more commercial appeal in high-concept writing. She is a gifted storyteller.
The Miniature Wife and Other Stories by Manuel Gonzales
(Riverhead Hardcover; First Edition edition (January 10, 2013)
Gonzales’ work is often supernatural and outlandish, but grounds the reader with a style that renders magical realism commonplace. There are eighteen stories in this sparkling collection, among them a humorous examination of a half-human, half-zombie, and the story of a hijacked place, which has been circling Dallas for 20 years. In the title story a man accidentally shrinks his wife to the size of a coffee cup, and tries to make up for it by building her a doll house. Strange, funny, and sad, this debut collection is full of stories that force you to look at the world with fresh eyes.