Staff Picks: Short stories

The short story is thriving.

Alice Munro wins the Nobel Prize. George Saunders and Junot Diaz contend for National Book Awards. Claire Vaye Watkins incorporates the mythology of the American West to write the dark collection Battleborn, which seems to shudder in your hands as you read. Kevin Barry performs wonderful tricks of Irish dialect in Dark Lies the Island.

What has lead us to this wonderful year? Here are 5 collections–written over the past two decades or so–that expanded a short story’s bounds, studied cultural currents, and above all else, were so much fun to read.

Jesus’ Son by Denis Johnson

These stories punch you in the gut. Dark and humorous, the dip you into the world of FH, a man who steals pills from the hospital he works at, who can predict car crashes and does nothing to stop them, and who stalks a Mennonite couple because he’s lonely; all these things he does without shame. But he comes face to face with his future during a stint in rehab. He’s shaving a fellow addict twice his age who–recovering from a bullet wound to the mouth–tells FH, “Talk into my bullet hole. Tell me I’m fine.”

Civilwarland in Bad Decline by George Saunders

These stories stradle the line between reality and sci-fi, between humor and horror, and between the worst things people can do to each other and the kindest. Open this book. See a man so crazy he think his biscuits are poisoned. See a man so desperate for money that he harvests others’ memories. See a post-apocalyptic world where a man with claws for toes sojourns across a degenerate America. These worlds, these characters, are not as foreign as you’d expect.

The Collected Stories of Amy Hempel by Amy Hempel

She has Loorie Moore’s wit wrapped in Raymond Carver’s brevity. There’s no one I like to quote more on McIntyre’s Twitter page than Hempel. Also, she loves dogs. Once, a customer said to me, “If you don’t like dogs you might be immoral.” Concerning that–who knows? I do know that no one can create a voice and a story with as few words as Hempel uses. She may require more work of her readers than other writers, but she gives all that work back with beautiful stories.

Everything Ravaged, Everything Burned by Wells Tower

A phenomenal collection, with one of the best final paragraphs I’ve ever read (I know, what a teaser). A viking who learns “how terrible love can be.” A recently separated husband who becomes obsessed with his fish tank. Two brothers battle with a moose, and with each other. Tower writes details that you’ll never forgot and colors domestic tragedies with a tinge of hilarity.


Burning Bright by Ron Rash

From dug up Confederate soldiers to mouths caught on fishhooks to a boy who watches his parents spiral into drug addiction, Rash’s Burning Bright reveals the grizzly underbelly of life. And I couldn’t look away.


All of these give us a cross section of the human heart, but the question is, which collections did I forget?

Eat, sleep, read,

– McIntyre’s Crew

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  1. You forgot Elizabeth Spencer’s latest collection!