While recently going through my list of “Books Read”, I realized that there were a few short story collections that left a truly lasting impression on me. One of my favorite qualities about short story collections is that they expose you to new authors in a generally quick amount of reading time.
Most of the short story collections that I have read deal with difficult subjects that make quite an impact within a brief amount of pages. Since they are so brief and brimming with meaning, I find myself trying to unravel the authors’ purposes much more than the traditional novel. I never feel like I’ve truly eeked out all that I can from the stories, which is why they keep me wanting to revisit them.
Every book in this list, except for The Corpse Expedition, also features some stories with queer relationships without the relationships being the main plot point, which I also love!
I tried to input content warnings since they all deal with difficult subjects, but they are most likely incomplete since I read most so long ago and couldn’t find warnings elsewhere. I’ll update them as I reread each book!
Salt Slow by Julia Armfield
I picked this book up on a whim at the library last year and ended up becoming completely enchanted with it. Magical realism, body horror, and surrealism collide to create a gothic tapestry of stories about women and their experiences taking up space in society. These stories were so oddly recognizable to something within my psyche that I had to take time to ponder over each one and attempt to uncover the parts of me that identified with their clawing darkness. I felt so seen in all of it’s grotesqueness! It’s hard to describe this book, but if you are interested in stories that will haunt you with their otherness, I would highly recommend this.
What it Means When a Man Falls from the Sky by Lesley Nneka Arimah
This debut is the most recent of the short story collections that I’ve read. The stories focus on family life in Nigeria and lives of Nigerian expats living in the US through a variety of genres ranging from dystopia to magical realism to historical fiction. Every story has such creative premises that range from fragments of stories to more “complete” short stories. The mix of genres was executed SO well and kept me excited to keep reading. I am keeping my eyes peeled for anything else that Lesley Nneka Arimah publishes because this was a truly beautiful collection. If you are not very interested in the surreal and uncomfortable (like the other books from this list), I would recommend this one since its language and style is easier to process.
Her Body and Other Parties by Carmen Maria Machado
This debut by Machado is a very experimental collection of stories that focus on women and their experiences in relationships, in society, and with themselves. While some of the stories were not as strong as others, there were a few that left a lasting impression on me. One more experimental story, “Especially Heinous” is a rewritten list of plot summaries for twelve seasons of Law and Order: SVU that completely changed the way that I watch the show now. While the story was not my favorite, it stuck with me- which is kind of the case for the entire book. Although the stories were a bit tedious to parse out, something about it haunts me almost a year after I read it, which is why I want to give it another chance and see what else I can uncover from the stories.
The Corpse Exhibition and Other Stories of Iraq by Hassan Blasim
Translated from the Arabic, this short story collection examines the pervasive horror that exists for those living in Iraq during wartime through a claustrophobic blend of realism and fantasy. According to the synopsis, this is the first major literary work about the Iraq War from the perspective of an Iraqi person, which made me wonder why I had never really thought about reading from such a point of view. It is a perspective that we rarely see in popular literature, which is why I think collections like this are so valuable. Hassan Blasim’s stories truly induce the sense of anxiety and terror of living life in a war ravaged time and place. The statements he makes about war and its effect on the human psyche are so unsettling and horrifying that it can be difficult to read. This is the reality for some people in the world and I think it’s something that should not be turned away from as a person as privileged as I.
Have you read any of these short story collections or do any of them interest you? Do you have any short story suggestions? I’m always on the search for more recommendations, let me know in the comments!
International Rescue Committee: Yemen Crisis
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