Essential Short Stories

What makes a short story so different to a novel (other than, you know, the length)?
The best answer we’ve ever heard was when Yan Ge visited the shop. “If your short story has a resolution, you’ve done something wrong.” They ask more of the reader, they disorientate, they leave you hanging. Here are some of our favourite collections from the best short fiction aficionados!

Elsewhere, by Yan Ge

Yan Ge’s first English language collection makes for such unexpectedly perfect juxtapositions: intimate and observational character stories set in modern day Dublin and Stockholm; sweeping and meticulous political intrigues in medieval China; the sharply realist and the semi-ethereal. This might sound a bit whip-lash inducing, but Elsewhere is a masterfully consistent collection of stories about language, belonging and estrangement – and features the only story we’ve ever read that so heavily revolves around using a breast pump. (Seriously, it’s so brilliant).

Open Up, by Thomas Morris

Thomas Morris’s second short story collection is just as killer as his debut. These are five profound, deeply affecting, and tightly written short stories. Realist, for the most part, with just the right amount of reality-bending shenanigans – veering into the slightly surreal in order to express something psychologically and emotionally true about our inner lives, the human condition, the nature of the soul… all the good stuff!

Afterparties, by Anthony Veasna So

Afterparties is a warm-hearted, bold collection of interconnecting stories about Cambodian-American lives. The stories express the joy and messiness and pain and love of real lives, families striving to make ends meet, to feel fulfilled, and to hang on to some semblance of Cambodian cultural heritage whilst trying to achieve the American dream; a mechanic whose business is failing because he wants to offer jobs to his whole community, a high school teacher who can’t move on from his dream of being a badminton star, cousins trying to psyche themselves up to attend a relative’s reincarnation party. 

Anthony Veasna So’s writing is so full of heart, he navigates the nuanced topics of immigration, race and sexuality with a sharp wit and tender understanding. Afterparties is sadly the only published collection from this talented writer whose career was just about to start when he passed away in 2020.

A Natural History of Transition, by Callum Angus

In his debut collection, Callum Angus presents a series of short stories united by the theme of transition, which challenge the notion that trans people can have only one transition. His stories are suffused with magic, beauty, occasional horror and a palpable reverence for the natural world. Somehow, even the stories that are unsettling, remain beautiful and tender. These could be read as a kind of guide book toward accepting change, in all its respects – in its horror and goodness. Evidently, this is a very special book indeed.

Exhalation, by Ted Chiang

A second exquisite collection of science fiction stories from Ted Chiang, who wrote the story which inspired the film “Arrival”. All of these stories begin with a challenging and original sci-fi concept, but these stories are more concerned with morality, philosophy and a slightly optimistic view of human nature than they are about doom-and-gloom visions of the future or getting bogged down in the details of hard science.

Filthy Animals, by Brandon Taylor

In 2021 it seemed as if the short story collection was having a kind of moment, and Filthy Animals was certainly one of the best to emerge at this time. We already knew Brandon Taylor was a star, but boy did this blow us away. The stories across this collection are linked, with characters reoccurring and weaving in and out of the narratives. In one story, Lionel is discharged from hospital and attends a party-where he meets and is drawn to the magnetic Charles and Sophie. In another, a childminder is driven mad by her out-of-control charge. The stories are linked not only by characters but by themes which are explored and developed across them, from loneliness and depression, to violence, love and tenderness. It’s a rich and masterful collection that is honestly, simply astonishing.

My Documents, by Alejandro Zambra
translated by Megan McDowell

Metafictional, melancholic and dryly witty short stories from Chile’s voice of a generation. Alejandro Zambra is a detail-focused, exacting and profound prose writer, and, in our mind, essential. No disrespect to the Fitzcarraldo Editions impeccable design, but in this case it masks how playful, silly and utterly humble these stories are. To reconfigure expectations a bit: “My Documents” refers to the folder on a desktop computer, maybe even the place where a story goes when it’s forgotten about.

Dark Tales, by Shirley Jackson

There are a lot of Shirley fans knocking around and all power to them, but the books they love are often her novels. And brilliant though her novels are, Shirley Jackson is at her finest and darkest in her stories. These tales are short, satisfying and spooky as hell.

The Best of Richard Matheson

You know Richard Matheson’s work even if you haven’t read any. Some of the most iconic and disturbing Twilight Zone episodes were adapted from Mathesons stories such as “Nightmare at 20,000 Feet” and “Button, Button” and dozens of his back catalogue were adapted to TV and film. Reading these stories has an air of deja vu, but always comes hand-in-hand with an unexpected and disturbing twist.

Things We Lost in the Fire, by Mariana Enriquez
translated by Megan McDowell

Transfixing and macabre stories from the underbelly of modern Argentina, where ghosts still roam the abandoned houses and creeping menace stalks the streets. You’ll never forget reading a Mariana Enriquez story.

Her Body And Other Parties, by Carmen Maria Machado

In many ways, this couldn’t be further from Carmen Maria Machado’s hit memoir, In the Dream House – but then again, it is just as astoundingly good, as startlingly thoughtful and explosive as its predecessor. In these vivid short stories, heads roll, plagues ravage the earth, and medically induced weight loss has unexpectedly creepy results. For fans of Mariana Enriquez, Angela Carter, the Brothers Grimm and anyone interested in how to craft a perfect short story.

Dark Neighbourhood, by Vanessa Onwuemezi

An enchanting and experimental collection. Each of these stories is set in a liminal space – on the edge of a community, on the cusp between life and death, on the border between this world and the next… Quite where or when each is set, who is speaking, or what exactly is going on, remains enticingly ambiguous throughout. Fittingly, Onuemezi’s style is entirely inventive; in between dazzling and elegant prose, we are faced with stark blank gaps. Again, uncertainty reigns! Narrator and reader are united in a state of mystery, trying to puzzle out a disorienting and often dystopian world.

Cursed Bunny, by Bora Chung
translated by Anton Hur

A collection of genre-defying Korean short stories that jump between the ridiculous and the terrifying. Dive in to find Angela Carter-style fables, body horror, ghost stories and science-fiction. High on the list of Storysmith favourites from the last few years.

Buy every book on this list and save 10%!

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