Some Striking Short Stories

Some Striking Short Stories


It’s difficult to believe we’re less than a week away from the launch of Poemdemonium. One of the things that excites me most about that is the fusion of different styles and forms we’ll be providing a platform for: not least the short story. With that in mind, I thought I might jot down a few of my favourites, so if you’re in the mood for perusal before the big day or you just need some last-minute inspiration, here are a few primers. This is by no means a comprehensive or definitive list, except in my head, where each of these collections takes pride of place in prose.

  •  Stone Mattress (Margaret Atwood) – Justifiably lapping up the praise for The Handmaid’s Tale and its recent adaptation for television, this collection of ‘tales’ continues to blend together modernity, darkness and wit resulting in a collection that proves you don’t need to write an epic novel to produce a gripping page-turner.
  • The Bloody Chamber and Other Stories (Angela Carter) – Put simply, she’s an exquisite writer. Decadent without being pedantic, these modern retellings of fairy tales are as sumptuous to read as they are disturbing and edgy.
  • Dubliners (James Joyce), and in particular the final and longest story in that collection, ‘The Dead’. Much as I hated the self-aggrandising, sprawling modernisms of A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man and Ulysses, this collection is remarkably explosive for a collection so comparably small. And even if you can’t be doing with all that – there’s a mouthwatering description of Gabriel Conroy’s Christmas dinner that never fails to whet the appetite in every way.
  • Selected Stories (Anton Chekhov) – Widely considered to be one of the greatest writers of the short story, and when you read him it’s easy to see why. In many ways, the Russia he depicts is now remote and isolate, but the universality of his characters hammers home the relevance of his work even today. And where people like Dickens rambled, Chekhov tended to hit the nail on the head: and he did it beautifully.
  • Seize the Day (Saul Bellow) – This is actually a novella and including it here is cheating. Except that it isn’t. Because the thing reads and feels like a short story: the casually tragic and conversationally heartrending story of a man failing to live up to expectations and trapped in a series of diminutive pitfalls he fails to overcome. Bellow knew how to built tension, and one of the reasons I’m including this is because as a piece of social commentary, character study or just masterfully orchestrated conflict, Seize the Day belongs in a league of its own. (Or a room, if you happen to be channelling Virginia Woolf.)

Hopefully that’s encouraged you to go seize the page, and whatever you’re reading and writing, we look forward to having you with us in just five days time.

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