I’ve been studying the art of the short story again. I’m meeting with a few other writers each month for discussions about selected works from the book The Best American Short Stories of the Century, edited by John Updike. We are reading for pleasure, then re-reading for craft knowledge. We are hunting for the “why” behind the question, “Did I enjoy this story?”
We’ve got a wide variety of favorite reading topics between these fellow writers and I, but none of us had given the short story much of a notice in the last few years. Even me, who likes writing them. I think the main reason for this is the lack of exposure to short stories. Besides literary journals and The New Yorker, it’s been hard to find a short story anywhere.
Luckily, that is changing.
Short stories are being resurrected in the digital age. Authors we know and enjoy are putting their short works out there, and I can’t get enough of them. I’ve recently read short stories on my Kindle from James Scott Bell, Dean Koontz, and Amy Tan. That enjoyment prompted me to hunt down Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine and the 2011 collection called The Best American Mystery Stories (edited by Harlan Coben, who I adore). Suddenly I see short stories everywhere.
And I love it.
When a short story ends and you feel like you’ve read an entire novel–experienced every moment along with those characters–it’s magic. My favorite short story so far from Century is “My Dead Brother Comes to America” by Alexander Godin. Written in 1933, this story is a simple one, where an immigrant man comes to meet his family at Ellis Island. After several years of work and saving, his wife and children are finally able to join him. But that’s where the story becomes something entirely different. One of the children doesn’t make it to New York alive, and the father, who has purchased enough wool caps to keep all of his children warm in the New York winter, realizes that his wife hadn’t told him because her grief is too big to handle. He chooses to pretend it is still a joyous day, prompting the rest of the family to pretend along with him. The ending–the last wool cap–wow.
Other favorites from this month:
Clean Slate by Lawrence Block (Warriors Magazine)
A Crime of Opportunity by Ernest J Finney (Sewanee Review magazine)
Flying Solo by Ed Gorman (Noir 13 magazine)
Got any favorite short stories you’d like to recommend?