Conundrum Press

10 Must-Read Short Stories

February 24th, 2014  |  Published in Blog

by Debbie Vance

6 short stories everyone should read, according to Nabokov:

  1. John Cheever’s “The Country Husband” (“Jupiter [a black retriever] crashed through the tomato vines with the remains of a felt hat in his mouth.” The story is really a miniature novel beautifully traced, so that the impression of there being a little too many things happening in it is completely redeemed by the satisfying coherence of its thematic interlacings.)
  2. John Updike’s “The Happiest I’ve Been” (“The important thing, rather than the subject, was the conversation itself, the quick agreements, the slow nods, the weave of different memories; it was like one of these Panama baskets shaped underwater around a worthless stone.” I like so many of Updike’s stories that it was difficult to choose one for demonstration and even more difficult to settle upon its most inspired bit.)
  3. J. D. Salinger’s “A Perfect Day for Bananafish”(“Stopping only to sink a foot in a soggy, collapsed castle . . .” This is a great story, too famous and fragile to be measured here by a casual conchometrist.)
  4. Herbert Gold’s “Death in Miami Beach” (“Finally we die, opposable thumbs and all.” Or to do even better justice to this admirable piece; “Barbados turtles as large as children . . . crucified like thieves . . . the tough leather of their skin does not disguise their present helplessness and pain.”)
  5. John Barth’s “Lost in the Funhouse” (“What is the story’s point? Ambrose is ill. He perspires in the dark passages; candied apples-on-a-stick, delicious-looking, disappointing to eat. Funhouses need men’s and ladies’ rooms at interval.” I had some trouble in pinning down what I needed amidst the lovely swift speckled imagery.)
  6. Delmore Schwartz’s “In Dreams Begin Responsibilities”(“. . . and the fatal merciless passionate ocean.” Although there are several other divine vibrations in this story that so miraculously blends an old cinema film with a personal past, the quoted phrase wins its citation for power and impeccable rhythm.)

There are, for one thing, no stories by female writers in Nabokov’s list, so here are four of my favorites to bring us up to 10:

7. Alice Munro’s “The Progress of Love” (“Moments of kindness and reconciliation are worth having, even if parting has to come sooner or later.” This is a sweeping story of love and grudges, covering multiple generations yet replete with specificity.)

8. Taiye Selasi’s “The Sex Lives of African Girls” (“How strange to feel naked in a room not your own, and not stepping from the bath into the humidity’s embrace, but here cold and naked in the leather-scented darkness, remembering the morning, the rain around four.” The first time I’ve ever seen a second person narrator so brilliant. Honest and sensory-rich.)

9. Emma Cline’s “Marion” (“The women were drying branches of lemon verbena and sage on tin sheets all over the yard, and a puppy Jack had dragged home from town kept nosing the sheets over. Marion was reading Archie’s Double Digest with her back against a rock wall, and I was pressing tiny sequins onto my nails with glue.” Two young girls, one hippie commune, the danger of sex, the revelation of human incentive.)

10. Flannery O’Connor’s “Revelation” (“In the woods around her the invisible cricket choruses had struck up, but what she heard were the voices of the souls climbing upward into the starry field and shouting hallelujah.” O’Connor’s Southern grotesque at its finest (in short form, at least).)


Tweet @conundrumpress with your short story must-read suggestions.

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