It’s the national short story week in the U.K. and I thought it a perfect opportunity to make due on my promise to list a few of my favourite short stories. I write a lot of short stories but it’s a very difficult medium to master and so hard to know what it is in a short story that people like and react to. Some topics are perfect for a short story, and others not suited at all…
When I first started thinking of making a list of my favourite short stories 3 stories immediately came to mind.
1. First came to mind a story called Saga handa börnum (Stories for Children) by Svava Jakobsdóttir. It is a short story I read as a teenager about a mother whose kids cut her brain out and put it in a jar on a shelf and when they’ve moved out she has her heart cut out and wants it to have a home with them. I read it a long time ago but it stuck with me. This story was a trigger for me – the time I started accepting that what you read in fiction doesn’t have to be truthful at all. I love this story with all my heart for having introduced that idea to me.
2. Then, immediately, came to mind The Man Who Drew Cats by Michael Marshall Smith. There is a sentence in this short story that is just perfect. I won’t spell it out for you – you’ll have to go to it and read it but this story is a gem. A perfect combination of eeriness and magic. It’s a story I’ve returned to many times and I never tire of it.
3. The third is one that made me ooh and awe and laugh. It’s I, Cthulhu by Neil Gaiman. You can read this story on his website (see link <–). When I first read it I had just finished my “Lovecraft” phase. I had read an entire collection of Lovecraft’s stories when I fell upon this one online and it was just the perfect thing to end your Lovecraft phase with.
But there are writers who write such perfect short stories you’d like to list all their stories. First on that list of writers is Jorges Luis Borges. One of my favourite Borges stories is The Library of Babel. The mystical library always makes me feel there are endless secrets in the world hidden in secret books. Borges stories are often about language, words and their power and it’s hard to choose just one.
Another master of the short story is Clive Barker. His Books of Blood are a horror treasure and again it’s very hard to choose just one story from his collection but in the spirit of mentioning one I’ll mention The Forbidden. It’s a story that inspired the film Candyman. The story exceeds the film greatly though. It reels you in and delivers a truth beyond what you expect. Barker’s body-horror (as I like to call it) is astoundingly clear and crisp in this short story and the story leaves you chilled to the bone.
Another horror master is Edgar Allan Poe. His stories bring a chill different from that of Mr. Barker, but some of Poe’s stories are indeed quite chilling. I’m not as impressed with Poe’s humor short stories but his gothic horror is, as we know, legendary. My favourite Poe story has to be Ligeia. The story of a man who looses his wife to disease. When he re-marries however his second wife comes down with a strange illness and… I’ll leave you to read the ending yourself. Poe, like Barker, describes the strangeness that happens around his characters with a sense of emotion that is hard not be touched by.
And since we’re on the subject of horror, it would just be rude to leave the elephant in the room out of this little snibbit. H. P. Lovecraft built his own universe and many of his stories have the same gargantuan, grotesque feel to them. He doesn’t just hint at the monsters but opens the (metaphorical) closet they are in and leaves you in there with them. And I can’t but to mention The Call of Cthulhu. It may or may not be Lovecrafts best story (there are others I love) but it is certainly the one you remember. Like many of Lovecrafts stories it doesn’t only hint at a horror in some closed closet but in opening the closet you are inviting the monster into the world and it will soon call upon a hefty change in the world view and perhaps a kind of an apocalypse.
It’s hard to speak of books without mentioning Murakami and since he is one of my favourite authors I will mention one of his short stories. Murakami has published at least two short story collections in English. In the Elephant Vanishes there is a short story called Sleep which captured me from the start. I first read it before I ever had problem sleeping myself and I’ve read it again since I’ve myself suffered mild insomnia. It’s a compelling story and written in a way that I believe only Mr. Murakami is capable of.
Then there is the man with the compelling name, China Miéville. He published a short story collection called Looking for Jake and other Stories and the first story, called Looking For Jake, caught me from the first sentence. It’s an apocalyptic tale, a bit chaotic which is a part of its charm and at the time I read it it kind of brought something new to the horizon I thought.
The last story on this list is a story by Phillip K Dick called We Can Remember it for You Wholesale. Total Recall was based on this story but wether or not you liked the film this story is still worth a read. Mr. Dick cultivates his ideas well in his short stories and it’s not strange that more than one of his stories have become a subject to examine further. I found that going to the source though was very rewarding.
I did not forget Stephen King, but although I do enjoy his short stories I do think that his craft is better suited for longer tales (much the same goes for Murakami). There is another tale that isn’t on this list either, but only because it’s considered a “novella” and not a short story and that’s Banana Yoshimoto’s Moonlight Shadow. If you haven’t picked up one of Yoshimoto’s book because of her compelling name, than you should pick them up because she tells a great short(ish) story!
Now the question is, what stories DID I forget?