I’ve listed my ten absolute favourites below, a number of which I studied at Uni or used in my dissertation about Poe/Hawthorne and others are just ones I’ve read out of curiosity/love of the author’s work. For a list of the short stories I’ve read this year, feel free to check out the ‘Deal Me In’ Short Story Challenge I’m taking part in.
1. The Tell Tale Heart by Edgar Allan Poe
The first short story I ever read by Poe and ultimately the one that pushed this man to the very top of my favourite authors list. Relayed by an unnamed narrator who endeavors to convince the reader of his sanity while simultaneously describing a murder he committed. Another short story worth a mention that is quite similar to this is Poe’s The Black Cat. Both rife with the gothic, murder, doubles, the uncanny and so on…
2. The Fall of the House of Usher by Edgar Allan Poe
I am absolutely fascinated (and you could say obsessed) with this one. It’s probably my favourite Poe story I’ve read thus far. The Fall of the House of Usher recounts the terrible events that befall the last remaining members of the once-illustrious Usher clan before it is rend asunder. Poe believed in “totality” wherein every element and detail is related and relevant. Everything from the setting, to the tone, to the characters, to the dialogue is important and relevant. Everything tells a story and is a symbol of something much larger. This story has often been analysed as a description of the human psyche.
3. Kino by Haruki Murakami
This was the type of story that made me fall in love with Murakami’s writing to begin with. The true meat of the story exists between the lines, and is one about the discovery of one’s self and understanding that only you can change your life. Delicately tinged with the supernatural, Murakami never fails to weave an interesting tale that leaves you wanting more.
4. The Minister’s Black Veil by Nathaniel Hawthorne
I slaved away over Hawthorne (and Poe’s) short stories for my dissertation and this beaut was one of them. The Minister’s Black Veil is a moral parable of sin and guilt in 18th Century Puritan New England. The story is simple: Reverend Hooper arrives for Sunday services one day wearing a black veil across his face, and from that day on until the day he dies he is never seen without that veil. Opposing the ideals and beliefs of the Transcendentalism movement, Hawthorne emphasises human fallibility and the proneness to sin and self-destruction.
5. The Birthmark by Nathaniel Hawthorne
A tale of a great scientist who wonders whether the birthmark on the cheek of his beautiful wife can be removed. Hawthorne explores the theme of perfection, an exclusive province of heaven that can’t be found on earth, and the devastating effects Alymer’s quest for perfection has when it is found.
6. Lamb to the Slaughter by Roald Dahl
Dahl didn’t just write for children, he wrote for adults too. I absolutely love this man’s brain. Taken from the short story collection Someone Like You, Lamb to the Slaughter is essentially the story about the perfect crime. But what was the crime? And how did Mary Maloney cover it up? No spoilers. You need to read it. Only four pages long and is as close to perfection as perfection can be.
7. The Lottery by Shirley Jackson
The Queen of Horror. The story describes a fictional small town which observes an annual ritual known as “the lottery”, which results in the killing of one individual in the town. I went into this short story blind (so that summary may be a bit of a spoiler) but I was shocked and unsettled, and after deeper analysis there’s so much depth to this story. It’s been described as one of the most famous short stories in the history of American literature so if that doesn’t tell you that you should read it then I don’t know what will.
8. The Bloody Chamber by Angela Carter
I need to read a whole heap more of Angela Carter because I absolutely loved this one. The Bloody Chamber is based on the French folktale of Bluebeard, a wealthy violent man in the habit of murdering his wives. This along with the other stories in the collection challenge the way women are represented in fairy tales, contrasting traditional elements of Gothic fiction – which usually depicted female characters as weak and helpless.
9. The Yellow Wallpaper by Charlotte Perkins Gilman
This is a short story that has stuck with me for many, many years, and is often considered an important early work of American feminist literature – illustrating the 19th century attitudes towards women’s physical and mental health. The story is a collection of journal entries written by a woman whose physician husband (John) has rented an old mansion for the summer. She is forbidden from working, and is encouraged to eat well and get plenty of exercise and air, so she can recuperate from what he calls a “temporary nervous depression – a slight hysterical tendency”. Written as a cautionary tale of the “rest cure” it is often perceived as gothic horror.
10. Hills Like White Elephants by Ernest Hemingway
This list would be incomplete without even the briefest of mentions of Hemingway. The man is the master of the short story. This story focuses on a conversation between an American man and a woman at a Spanish train station while waiting for a train to Madrid. Hemingway provides very little context or background to these characters leaving the reader to infer their own conclusion from the dialogue. Hemingway was a very minimalist writer, getting the most out of a story by writing the least – omitting important things or events. He called this the ‘Iceberg’ theory.
What are some of the best short stories you’ve read?
Dying to read any of the above? Have any on your list that you think I’d be interested in? Let me know in the comments below. I’d love to hear your thoughts.