I love the power of the short story form. I was quite shocked to realise I have only read six short story collections/anthologies so far this year – I am sure I read far more last year. So I thought it would be fun to do a quick summary post on the ones I have read, if only to remind myself how much I love short stories!
The Beggar Maid by Alice Munro (1972)
There’s always another Munro collection to read, and it is always a pleasure. This one, subtitled ‘Stories of Flo and Rose’, is more novel-like than previous collections I have read. Spanning nearly forty years, it explores the complex relationship between Flo and her stepdaughter Rose, though the focus is more on the latter. These linked stories are, as I have come to expect from Munro, insightful and true, and helped me to define what it is that I find so extraordinary about her work. Nothing is simple or universal in Munro’s world: every interaction is unique, a product of the whole of the characters’ histories, everything they are and that has shaped them.
I find myself wondering how on earth she writes with so much truth – is it by keeping her subject matter close to her own experience, following the infamous advice to ‘write what you know’? Whatever the secret, reading a Munro story is like reading a document of reality rather than anything that could be termed mere fiction – a very special experience indeed.
Heads of the Colored People by Nafissa Thompson-Spires (2018)
This short story collection is full of self-awareness and a cool irony, delving into the needling questions of what it means to be an upper-middle-class Black person in modern America. Set apart as much by privilege as by race, the characters in these stories find themselves the only Black students at a private school, in a yoga class, and so on. The humour here is biting – in the letters between two highly educated mothers of private school girls, Thompson-Spires flirts with total parody, and in a later story, she manages to make a story about a woman with a fetish for amputees very funny indeed. Social media references abound, with one story in particular, ‘Suicide, Watch’, exploring the Instagram lifestyle in full comi-tragic glory, posing the question of what it means to be ‘Black’ when there are so many other identities to worry about these days. The collection as a whole is strengthened by recurring characters, and I found it full of a refreshing sharpness, zesty and full of life. I hope to read more by this author.
You Will Never Be Forgotten by Mary South (2020)
This is a fantastic collection of stories, full of a Black Mirror-style slantwise examination of our possible near future. You can read my full review of You Will Never Be Forgotten here.
The Book of Shanghai edited by Dr Jin Li and Dai Congrong (2020)
Part of the Reading the City series by the always brilliant Comma Press, this anthology is the perfect introduction to Shanghai. I am a big fan of literature in translation, and always looking for more recommendations. I’ve got The Book of Cairo on my TBR, and will be adding more from the series for sure. My full review of The Book of Shanghai is here.
Sky Light Rain by Judy Darley (2019)
I was thrilled to be approached by the author to review her book of short fiction, published by Valley Press. You can read my thoughts here: this collection is a glorious mixture of nature and myth, and a testament to the boundless imaginative possibilities of the short form.
The Dressing-Up Box by David Constantine (2019)
Another gem from Comma Press, you can read my full review of this book, which has just been released in paperback, here. I am amazed that this was the first time I had come across Constantine, who is a master of the short story, and I will definitely be checking out his past collections.
Compared to the number of novels I have read this year, six short story collections/anthologies is pretty poor. I have a few more lined up; most excitingly, Anna Vaught’s Famished, which is out in September from Influx Press, and promises to be just as staggeringly brilliant as her novel, Saving Lucia, which I read earlier this year. But PLEASE hit me up with your suggestions for story collections both old and new – I need to make sure I am not neglecting this wonderful form of fiction!