If all of the literary forms gathered in a family reunion, the Novel might be the impressive uncle who wows with tales of his foreign exploits, and the Poem may be the mysterious romantic who enters with chocolates and leaves early in a flourish. The Short Story, however, would be the half-forgotten niece or nephew standing in the corner, though laden with anecdotes and witticisms to share, is not able to get a sentence in edgewise.
In this two-part series, we’ll be giving some long-deserved attention to the short story by introducing several phenomenal short story collections. Let us see all that the short story has to offer, which in the words of Milton Crane, is nothing less than “The sudden revelation of character; the vision of a world through another’s eyes; the glimpse of truth; and the capture of a moment in time.”
The Illustrated Man (1951) by Ray Bradbury
Bradbury’s imagination and ability to write vivid science fiction and fantasy are difficult to parallel. His short story collections include incredibly varied pieces, ranging from the delightful to the frightening, and the lighthearted to the serious, but all of which never cease to entertain. Bradbury was a prolific writer, publishing more than three dozen books, and though he was a writer of the 1950s to 1970s, his projections of the future seem especially fresh and relevant today.
The Illustrated Man includes eighteen stories with an overarching frame: an unnamed narrator meets a man on the road, whose entire upper body is covered in tattoos, each image portraying one of the stories contained in the collection. With fluent and poetic prose, Bradbury sketches landscapes and characters both eerie and familiar within mere pages, exploring the impact that technology can have on society, and issuing warnings and sharing hopes about the future.
Notable stories: “Marionettes Inc.”; “The Long Rain”; and “The Veldt”
See also: The Martian Chronicles, The Illustrated Man
The Interpreter of Maladies (1999) by Jhumpa Lahiri
Indian-American writer Jhumpa Lahiri has had a wealth of personal experiences living in foreign lands, speaking in foreign tongues, and the overall joys and discomforts of life abroad. Her short story collection The Interpreter of Maladies, winner of the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction and the Hemingway/PEN Award in 2000, examines the multiple facets of cross-cultural experiences, and approaches them all with evocative, elegant prose and a big heart.
Notable stories:“A Temporary Matter”; “The Third and Final Continent”
See also: The Namesake (Lahiri’s first novel, published in 2003); Unaccustomed Earth(2008 collection of short stories)
Nine Stories (1953) by J. D. Salinger
Apart from creating one of the literary world’s most well-known angsty teens, Holden Caulfield, J. D. Salinger also gave life to the Glass family, which included seven children, precocious as kids and intellectually troubled as adults. Nine Stories features a few members of the Glass family, and though the stories greatly vary in subject matter, the collection excels in its ability to render everyday situations as slightly unsettling, often requiring readers to perform the literary equivalent of a double take.
In line with the nature of its title, Nine Stories has relatively simple subject matter, narrated in clear prose, but for the many questions it poses, both explicitly and implicitly, few answers are offered. Readers are rather encouraged (or forced) to come to their own terms with the conclusion of each story, and may find certain scenes or lines reverberating in their minds long after they have finished the book.
Notable stories: “A Perfect Day for Bananafish”;“For Esmé—with Love and Squalor”
See also: Franny and Zooey (Collection of two interconnected novellas, also about the Glass family)
Labyrinths (1962) by Jorge Luis Borges
Argentinian writer Jorge Luis Borges dedicated himself to the form of the short story, and has been heralded as an ingenious communicator of concepts. He pushed language to its uttermost limit to describe abstract yet fundamental concepts of time and space. Through his skillfully crafted and layered stories, he brought readers to explore the nature of dream and reality, bridge the infinite and finite, ponder over mazes and mirrors, and ultimately challenge commonplace perceptions.
Most remarkable was Borges’ ability to investigate, within ten pages, ideas that others may be unable to do so in five hundred. His immensely condensed writing should be savored slowly and closely, and for readers accustomed to strong plot lines, rest assured that Borges’ stories are well worth the effort.
Notable Stories: “The Library of Babel”, “The Garden of the Forking Paths” and “Tlön, Uqbar, Obis Tertius”
See also: Ficciones (Borges’ most famous 1944 collection of short stories, many of which were later translated and compiled into Labyrinths)
This article originally appeared in the January/February 2013 issue of UNIT-E. It was written by Amanda Song, a student at the International School of Beijing.
UNIT-E was founded in the spring of 2010 with the aim of establishing a non-profit, student-run magazine for international students in Beijing. Staffed by current students from a range of international schools, the magazine provides an amalgam of cultural tidbits, fragments of Beijing student life, and a broad spectrum of unique perspectives from a diverse group of young adults.