For me, the literary genre of the short story has always held a special place. It could perhaps be because they are so easy to read, and one can really get to know a writer in the space of a few pages. It could also be because if I ever were to become a writer, I’d mostly write short stories. That’s why I decided to dedicate a post to some of my favorite short stories of all time. They are randomly selected based on their memorability, entertainment value, and their re-readability.
Although this is chronologically the oldest written story, it is one that I read most recently in a graduate class and I was instantly drawn to it because of the Gothic feel. The story is of a woman who has just moved into a big house with her doctor husband, as a temporary accommodation. The narrative unfolds as the woman writes entries into her journal, and we find out that she’s suffering from a nervous breakdown (possibly postpartum depression). The narrator becomes obsessed with the wallpaper in her room, as she is subjected to rest and not do anything until she “feels better.” She imagines things crawling underneath the surface and creeping out at night. The more time she spends locked inside the room, the deeper her neurosis becomes. Written, surprisingly, in first person, this breakdown seems even more horrific. “The Yellow Wallpaper” is quite a trailblazer in its own right, creating awareness about mental disorders and the strange methods that were used by physicians to treat it.
While Hemingway is well-known for his longer fiction, I prefer him in shorter bursts. The dynamic of relationships between men and women is a cornerstone in Hemingway’s works, and this story is no exception. This short piece is mostly a conversation between a man and a woman who wait for a train somewhere in Spain (it rhymes!). The remarkable thing about the story is the dialog that is almost theatrical and sounds like stichomythia. It takes a while to figure out who’s saying what; and in a matter of a few pages, we know much more about the troubled relationship that the couple shares.
If I could write like Roald Dahl, I would be a happy person! He’s one of my most favorite short story writers. Many of his stories could have made it to this list, but this one stands out probably because it was one of the first Roald Dahl stories I read. The story is simple – a man returns home to his pregnant wife and tells her that he’s leaving her (we don’t know why). She loses it for a second, and kills him with what she was going to cook for dinner – a leg of lamb. It’s a short story, so there’s no point in me telling you more. But if you’ve read Dahl, you know it’s going to be strange and unbelievable.
Katy Hayes’s “Politico”
This one is probably the most obscure of choices, but keeping in tune with my “I-love-all-things-Irish” mentality. I read this story almost a decade ago in a collection called Phoenix: Irish Short Stories 1996 and it has remained with me ever since. The story is about two class-mates who hate each other so much, they eventually start dating. Seems right out of a Hindi movie, doesn’t it? Well, hardly. Jeananne and Cormac do unspeakable things to each other when they are alone, due to a strange, mutual hatred that stems out of attraction. The relationship is completely masochistic, for both; and one never really understands the angst that this young couple feels. One phrase that’s remained with me through the years, “They didn’t make love. They made hate.”
Trust a writer like Morrison to give you a story where you have to run to a dictionary just when you’ve only read the title. I’ll let you find the meaning and apply it to the text if you decide to read the story. “Recitatif” is about two girls, Twyla and Roberta, who meet when they are eight at a youth shelter and then keep bumping into each other as they grow older, are married, and have children. They sometimes have difficulty getting along as well as they did when they were children, and are sometimes on opposite sides of a protest, but they keep meeting, nonetheless. Morrison tells us that one of them is black and the other white, but never really tells us for sure which is which. The text purposely gives hints that confuse the reader, and the guessing game, which often makes you aware of your racist stereotypes, is what makes this story unique.
What are some of your favorite short stories? Tell me.