As many of you know, May is Short Story Month, which is awfully fitting for us considering we’re days away from announcing the ten authors who will represent the second printed volume of The Masters Review, judged this year by the incomparable, AM Homes. And yes, while we’re exactly twenty-two days late to the party in terms of posting about Short Story Month, bloggers in certain circles would consider it “fashionable” to just be mentioning it now.
Perhaps our tardiness can be explained by all the time we’ve been spending with Flavorwire’s Favorite Short Story series, wherein they’ve asked authors to share a short story that resonated with them in some profound way. We encourage all of you to pop over and enjoy some old favorites and new gems, and expand your perspective on what makes a great short story.
We thought we’d play along and share some of our own favorite shorts, and explain what makes them so special. Fiction Editor, Kim Winternheimer, lists a few of the short stories in her life that through either form, function, or through sheer impact, have stayed in her mind for good.
Stephanie Vaughn’s, Dog Heaven.
There are so many great short stories, and there are many I turn to for different things and during different times in my life, but “Dog Heaven” remains a steadfast example to me of what a short story should be and needs to accomplish. There is a lovely audio version here, read and discussed by Tobias Wolff, which does the story’s intricacies more justice than I ever will, but what I love about this story is how effortless it feels and reads, but how profoundly it impacts me when I’m finished. I know that sounds vague and cheap, like I’m evading some bigger issue, but to me it’s an example of a master at work. It’s like Vaughn sat down and did nothing, but the story is so incredibly rich and textured in its message. I like things I can read easily. When the language doesn’t distract me, or a character or setting is so seamlessly written I’m never extracted from their world. Her story is an immaculate example of one told from behind the veil of a child, and it’s full of so many little tricks and layers. There are a million things to love about it, from the title, to the opening line, and in every word throughout. It made me want to understand or attempt to achieve that kind of writing. (“Able, Baker, Charlie, Dog…” is also just as notable and can be found in the same collection, a book of connected short stories, Sweet Talk, by Stephanie Vaughn.)
WS Merwin’s, The Dachau Shoe
The Dachau Shoe is perhaps only a few hundred words, and always comes to mind when I think about style and form. Merwin is a prolific writer, and more commonly referenced for his poetry, so it comes as no surprise that this story has a very poetic quality. There is a lighthearted element in the way the narrator discusses his cousin’s relic from the holocaust, but the story is haunting, and after I read it the first time, I never forgot it. “The Dachau Shoe” is an excellent example of a small story packing a big punch.
George Saunders’, Victory Lap
This is my most recent “favorite short” as Saunders’ new book of stories is fairly new. I think I like “Victory Lap” so much because the first time I read it I thought to myself, “Oh, I’m going to hate this.” Then, quite promptly, the story blew my mind. I’ve read it several times now and I don’t think I’m alone when I say that I can’t put my finger on what makes Saunders such a genius. It’s like he’s in on a little secret, eating golden nuggets and drinking liquid gold, filling himself up with some super special element the rest of us are dying to be in on. We can recognize it — the genius in his work is undeniable — but I can’t figure out how, or why, and I’m a little bit more in love with this debate each time I read his work. “Victory Lap” tells the story of an attempted kidnapping from three different perspectives, each of them funny and harrowing and a little bit sad. Saunders plays around with style elements the way a lot of new authors do, but he hits the ball out of the park each time. He’s what so many of us aim for and fall short of; a true master of his craft. He just feels so elemental. I’m in love. Read this story. Please, please, please, read this story.
Kij Johnson’s, Ponies
There are two things readers should know about me before reading this story. The first being, I am a big fan of speculative fiction and stories with gothic elements, and the second being I am a horse girl…through and through. Therefore, it wouldn’t be unfair to suggest I am biased in announcing this pick. However, “Ponies” is undeniably great. It’s one of those pieces I keep saying to myself, “Damn. I wish I had written that.” And I’ve been a Kij Johnson fan ever since my first read. This story won the Nebula Award for Short Story in 2010 and I’ve read it hundreds of times since. I love its creativity, the message it sends, and I like how it isn’t trying to be more than it is. It’s a glimpse, but a satisfying glimpse, into a strange, beautiful world. I think this story, among the four listed here, is the one I feel was most written for me personally.