“I love short stories because I believe they are the way we live. They are what our friends tell us, in their pain and joy, their passion and rage, their yearning and their cry against injustice.” – Andre Dubus
Short stories are often overlooked in the world of literary art, probably because they are usually out-shined by the grandeur of novels. Imagine, though, in just a few lines, paragraphs, or pages, the author must weave a story that is captivating, create characters that are loveable and relatable, and drive the story to its ultimate ending; it can be difficult to do this even with great talent and know-how or even in a novel. It takes a certain skill and finesse to write a short story that can touch lives with just a few sentences. But some authors have mastered the art of the short story, turning their compelling pieces into memorable works that stick to readers long after they’ve finished reading.
Personally, I love to read short stories because they’re easy reads and are quite enjoyable, while still being poignant and compelling. In no particular order, here are 5 short stories that I think are absolutely awesome must-reads:
1. Harrison Bergeron by Kurt Vonnegut
This piece, written in 1961, takes a futuristic view of the world’s growing fondness for political correctness. The story is set in a society where the government takes actual steps to snuff out individuality and special ability by handicapping anyone who is above average with mechanisms, weights, and masks. The Handicapper General is the one appointed to keep the above average just like everybody else, making conformity the name of the game. The story centers on a couple and their son, Harrison, who is above average in almost every way and is, thus, covered in hindrances. Vonnegut is able to paint a picture of a couple who is far too scarred by the world they live in to take notice of the events that have befallen their son.
This story takes no more than 5 minutes to read and reminds us all about the importance of individuality, self-expression, and standing up for what you believe in.
2. Signs and Symbols by Vladimir Nabokov
“What he had really wanted to do was to tear a whole in his world and escape it.” This line really struck me, because it is something that everyone can relate to at one point or another.
The story revolves around an old Russian couple whose lives were ripped apart by misfortunes in their motherland. Their son is mentally disabled with what they call referential mania, a severe type of paranoia; quite literally, he is trapped in a world of signs and symbols.
The story itself is artfully open-ended, the missing ending forcing the reader to ask questions and look for hidden or suggested answers within the text. On some level, by doing this, Nabokov thrusts the reader into referential mania as well, searching for signs and answers where there might not even be any. In a sense, aren’t we all trapped in our own minds, haunted by fears we have fabricated ourselves? A 5-minute must-read that leaves you questioning and wanting more. I would say it reminds me of the movie “A Beautiful Mind”.
3. Witness by John Edgar Wideman
This one is an extremely easy read and takes no more than a minute to read – less than 300 words. And even with just that, Wideman was able to paint a story of loss, frustration, and wonder. This very short story tells of a murder that a man witnesses and the mourning of a family as he looks out his apartment window. Wideman, using just a few words, is able to make the reader feel the narrator’s frustration as he wishes he could effectively give a witness account or guide the mourning family in figuring out their son’s murder.
4. One Ordinary Day, With Peanuts by Shirley Jackson
“One Ordinary day, With Peanuts” isn’t as short as the others I’ve chosen but it is probably one of my favorites. The story centers on a man named, Mr. John Phillips Johnson who wanders around the city one day doing good deeds and sharing his bag of peanuts with the people he meets. He returns home at the end of the day and chats with his wife about the day’s events. She had apparently been going around spreading chaos for the people around her. In the end, they decide to switch roles the following day.
This story is quite simple on the surface, but the underlying implication of evil in the everyday is the irony that Jackson paints so well. Possibly, she means to tell the reader of how evil lurks in the mundane and how some people simply go around choosing to give others a hard time. On the other hand, the story implies that people can simply choose who they want to be in life.
5. A Rose for Emily by William Faulkner
This one is a classic and is definitely a must-read. This story was Faulkner’s first story published in a national magazine. Faulkner masterfully weaves a tale of Emily Grierson and how she is negatively affected both physically and mentally by her father, the townsfolk, and her lover, Homer. A seemingly profound love story, “A Rose for Emily” carries unimaginably dark images in a decaying mansion, a corpse, a murder, a mysterious servant, and a delicious little surprise at the end that will haunt readers long after reading. Ominous from beginning to end, this is a wonderfully dreadful story about obsessive, unending, deathless love.