Five Brilliant Short Stories

Gawddd short stories are just brilliant aren’t they? Previously, we’ve themed our monthly lists of fave short stories, but this month, in honour of Write A Short Story Month, we’re just listing five brilliant short stories that make us go oooh and aaaah and weeeeeee. They’re from a range of writers, from well-known to smol indie types, but the thing they all have in common is they do that thing to our guts like whomp, ya know? Oooof. So. Go read. Get your heart ripped out. Yeah!

Orange World
By Karen Russell

Read it at the New Yorker here >>

When this story was first published in 2018, it sped around every Mum WhatsApp group in the English-speaking world. Ping ping ping. You must read this. Oh my god stop everything and read this. This story is the ultimate manifestation of the famous Kazuo Ishiguro quote, “Stories are about one person saying to another, this is the way it feels to me? Does it feel the same to you?”. Orange World is motherhood wrapped up in 5,000 gloriously weird, concise and affecting words. It’s both allegory and very simply real when the hallucinogenic, blissful early days of motherhood are wrapped in apocalyptic terror and the absolute certainty that someone —maybe me, maybe you—is possessed by the goddamn devil. You must read this. Stop everything and read it.

Track
By Nicole Flattery

Read it at The White Review here >>

If a short story needs to catch a character at bursting point, as V.S. Pritchett said, then Nicole Flattery’s nameless protagonist is fit to explode. After finding herself in a wholly unhealthy relationship with a comedian, the woman wanders around New York, a seemingly blank slate, trying to superimpose a personality and a life onto herself. None of it seems to work, and as her lack of self somehow deepens, so too does her relationship become increasingly bizarre and concerning. A suffocating and deeply honest story about how we become ourselves and the pain and confusion of existing outside of genuine human connection.

When Can You Start?
By Anna Wood

Read it at Galley Beggar here >>

Anna Wood writes short stories that are full of joy and light, that drench the reader in hope and vibrancy, and then occasionally, just when you’re not expecting it, throws in something dark, wild, blurry. It’s an incredible skill that leaves us unsettled and yet deeply grounded in the truth of things. In When Can You Start?, which won the Galley Beggar Press Short Story Prize 2018/19, we follow Annie to a job interview at Conde Nast, an aspirational, enviable position, and watch as she tries to position herself as responsible, adult, capable, all the while her incredible ability to disassociate takes her to a sunny afternoon in the Pyrenees with a cool drink in her hand. It’s so painfully familiar, the constant attempts at simply existing as an adult, of constructing an outward self so fractured from our real self; it’s as if Wood has read all of our private diaries and presented them back to us in short story form.

The Empties
By Jess Row

Read it at the New Yorker here >>

It’s hard to write about the end of the world in a way that hasn’t been done before. We all know the usual schtick: cataclysmic event followed by humans turning against each other except for a rag tag band of plucky survivors. But Row turns this trope on its head and asks, what if people just kind of carried on? What if we all looked after each other and made a new life with what we’ve got?

Row is high faultin’ literary. Where he moves away from familiar old dystopian vibes, he leans heavily on newer metafictional tropes, with characters having intensely self-aware conversations about what this period of history would be called, whether they’re dystopian or apocalyptic, and a protagonist who is obviously a literature graduate who has taken multiple writing workshops. But somehow, this conceit serves to elevate the story rather than irritate the reader and offers a much more real end-of-the-world narrative than the balls-to-the-wall, gritty survival adventures we’re used to.

The Ones Who Walk Away From Omelas
By Queen Ursula Le Guin

Read the PDF here >>

It seems like something of a copout to include Omelas on a list of brilliant short stories. It’s a bit like including Margaret Atwood or Raymond Carver. Like, come on, let other people have a chance! First published in 1973 and serving as the launch pad for a thousand amateur moral philosophers, Le Guin guides us to an idyllic, utopian city in which everyone lives perfect, joyful lives. All except for one child, who is locked in a windowless room, living in their own filth, half-starved, occasionally begging for release. The happiness of the whole city is dependent on the torture of this ten-year old-child. Most people in the city simply switch off from this knowledge and go about their day in utopian bliss. A handful cannot bear the cruel trade-off and leave, never to be heard from again.

Le Guin was always prescient in her thinking, but this story takes on a new resonance when you realise that now, we as a society have collectively and actively decided to stay wholeheartedly in Omelas, just waiting and seeing what happens. Oof.

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