By Kelly Deneen
Since becoming a serious homebody (more than I already was), I have found myself drawn to short stories and poems. Mostly because I have found it is harder for me to concentrate on reading long books given the weight of the world. After coming across an article from Vogue Magazine, I found I was not alone in my lack of focus. I would scour my bookshelf and feel daunted by the sheer volume of some of the novels — even though I felt excitement just a month ago. Slipping through a short story that’s only a handful of pages long, and that pulls me in was just enough for my brain to be happy about reading again.
Roald Dahl “Tales of Deception”
When I saw Roald Dahl wrote a book of short stories for adults, I was surprised. I only knew him as an author of many books I would read from my childhood. This particular book of short stories focuses on the theme of deception: lies, betrayal, concealment, and secrets. I’d like to share a few of my favorite stories from this novel and hopefully you find as much amusement as I did.
The first story I found exciting was the story called “Lamb to the Slaughter.” Mary Maloney sits at home waiting for her police officer husband to arrive home. When he does, she happily tries to dote on him but notices that something is wrong. He tells her something horrible that he has done, but Dahl does not directly say what that is. She soon finds herself involved in murder, concealment and part of an elaborate plan of deception. I highly suggest reading this simple yet enticing plot that will leave you wondering how a seemingly innocent wife is involved with murder. You can find the full story here.
The next story I read had truly left me in awe and I was left thinking about it long after I had finished it. It is called “Man from the South.” It begins with the narrator telling of how he unwittingly becomes part of a high stakes bet with an older, South American man, a young American man, and an English girl. The American begins to light up his cigarette, which prompts the older man to bet that the American can’t ignite his lighter ten times without fail. This would mean that the American would have to flick his cigarette lighter and produce a flame each time or else he would lose the bet. Before starting the bet, the old man keeps upping the stakes until it involves cutting off a finger. This story was a definite page-turner for me and I can tell you that you will not be disappointed reading this short story. The deception and lies that unfold with every page create a great twist that will leave the reader wanting more. You can read the full story here.
BJ Novak “One More Thing: Stories and other Stories”
If you are a fan of the “The Office”, you may know BJ Novak as Ryan Howard. What you may not know is that he has a talent as a writer as well as an actor. I was intrigued to read his short stories because I had never read any of his work before. I found this in one of the bookshelves while trying to find short stories that could quiet my mind for a bit. Here are a few short stories that I think you might like.
“The Rematch” tells of a new side to the infamous tortoise and the hare story. After losing the tortoise, the hare demands a rematch. It focuses on the hare and his intense training to win the race he had lost against the tortoise. The hare ran its fastest race ever — beating the tortoise handily. But this side of the story is not known because no one wanted to know the obvious. It’s simple but a nice comic relief of a story well known.
Another comic story is “The Man Who Invented the Calendar.” It details a man who creates the calendar and the reasons for the months and days of the year. He begins with his reasoning for making January 31 days because he couldn’t get the word out that it should be 30 days because everyone seems to hate the month of January. He then describes his error in spelling February with an extra “r” instead of a “u”. He keeps going through each month — describing the arbitrariness of holidays, why people act certain ways during certain months, and why the calendar is the way that it is. This story was an interesting and funny way to reimagine how and why the calendar is the way that it is and the way we as people go about it.
Both of Novak’s stories that I shared provide a nice uplifting contrast to the depressing readings that seem to be ever-present today. These stories provide a new and fresh take on the everyday things that we know so well.
I hope these short stories provide a sense of relief in these difficult times and hopefully it can help you to escape into the world of each of these stories. Short stories are a great way to read even if it is for a short period of time.
Kelly Deneen is the Long River Review fundraising chair and a poetry panel reader. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.