The short story has been defined in several different manners. One definition that I find particularly pleasing is, “a story that one should be able to read in one sitting”. Edgar Allen Poe said something similar once.
Here’s a list of some of my favorites, not in any respective order.
1. Cathedral- Raymond Carver
If you’ve ever read Raymond Carver, you’d know his unmistakable style, short sentence structure, and common themes of alcoholism and unhappiness in suburbia. “Cathedral” has all of these elements. The story deals with a husband searching for meaning in his dreary life and longing for something… greater. This meaning comes unbeknownst to him when he is visited by a blind man that seemingly has more “vision” about life than he does. Sufficed to say the husband is enlightened by the end of the story.
2. The Open Boat- Stephen Crane
I really like this story. It’s not happy or beautiful or anything like that, but it has sort of a rugged feel. The idea of the ending (spoiler alert!) where one character dies and the rest survive shows a sort of randomness about the world and gives the story a very naturalistic feel. Great imagery and dialogue keep the reader hooked here. And yet, why did that one character have to die at the end!? That’s just life I guess.
3. Who’s Irish? – Gish Jen
This story is pretty hilarious. And you wouldn’t expect it written from a mild mannered Asian lady- Gish Jen. The language in this story is just *lip smack* perfect. It’s written from the POV of an Asian grandmother, trying to figure out the customs of her Irish- American in-laws, whom she lives with. The story is only about five pages, yet really enlightening with regard to cultural relativism and friendship.
4. The Metamorphosis- Franz Kafka
Franz Kafka is one of those European enlightenment thinkers at the beginning of the 20th century who was misunderstood and spent all his time indoors. This story wasn’t even famous until after he died. Gregor, the main character in this piece, is transformed into a bug one morning, and can’t go to work and support his family. The real “metamorphosis” that occurs is how his family has to change their habits and stop being dependent off Gregor.
5. The Hills Like White Elephants – Hemingway
Hemingway. Beautiful. This piece is so powerful and its only a page and a half. So much is said in this story without being explicitly stated. Great regional undertones and definitely a story that gets stuck in your head.
6. The Things They Carried- Tim O’Brien
Vietnam. A bit sad, but the story sticks. You don’t just carry gear and ammunition during a war, you carry guilt, and fear, and anxiety.
7. Yellow Wallpaper- Charlotte Gilman
Kind of dark and creepy tale, but the voice is right on point. This story does some justice for the mistreatment of patients in insane asylums over the years.
8. The Cask of Amontillado- Poe
Read this for the first time in high school and instantly loved it. Yeah I suppose its a little dark, but still beautifully written. I could never tell if the main character (who leads Fortunato) into the catacombs was a good guy or not. I mean, he wants revenge but I just never knew if it was justifiable or not. Thoughts on this?
9. The Rocking Horse Winner- D.H. Lawrence
Money ain’t the only thing that matters in this piece. The main character here is a boy named Paul whose a lucky gambler, winning money for his family. It turns out his secret to success is sitting on a rocking horse and…. I won’t say the rest. Go read it if you have the time!
10. Good Country People- Flannery O’Connor
Not everyone is who they say they are. Basically, this story undermines some Christian values and involves a trickster/ con artist who doesn’t really believe in anything. The end result is a reader who becomes a little more aware of their surroundings after the story ends.