short stories

I’m pretty exacting when it comes to short stories. Either they please me quick, or I bail out.

I want a plot. I want characters whose voices are loud and clear. They don’t have to be likable, but they’ve got to engage my interest somehow. I want to be enchanted or amused or shocked or furious, all those things at once, if possible. Many classic short stories leave me cold, so don’t be surprised that you won’t find James Joyce on this list or (cough) Hemingway. Don’t misunderstand: subtle is just fine and dandy, as long as it still comes with a plot attached. The list is in the Extended Body below.

Of those stories I’ve mentioned, I would have to say that Bambara’s “My Man Bovanne” is as close as it comes to perfect, in my view of things. This short story has been filmed as a part of the Issues of Aging Curated Video Collection (actors Theresa Merritt as Hazel and Bill Cobbs as Bovanne).

I’d be interested to hear from you if you know any of these stories and have an opinion. Oh, and: I’ve given you more than one place to find the story, if I have that information available.

ALLEN, WOODY. The Kugelmass Episode
New Yorker May 2 1977
Worlds of Fiction ed. Roberta Rubenstein & Charles R. Larson, MacMillan College Division 1993

ATWOOD, MARGARET. Rape Fantasies
The Harper Anthology of Fiction ed. Sylvan Barnet, Longman 1991
Fiction: A Longman Pocket Anthology ed. R. S. Gwynn, Addison-Wesley Pub Co. 1998

We Are the Stories We Tell: The Best Short Stories by North American Women Since 1945 ed. Wendy Martin, Pantheon Books 1990
The Harper Anthology of Fiction ed. Sylvan Barnet, Longman 1991

Epoch 1985
American Short Stories (6th edition) ed. Eugene Current-Garcia & Bert Hitchcock, Addison-Wesley Pub Co. 1966

BLOOM, AMY The Story
The Best American Short Stories 2000, ed. E. L. Doctorow, Houghton Mifflin 2000

GODWIN, GAIL Dream Children
The Harper Anthology of Fiction, ed. Sylvan Barnet, Longman 1991

JACOBS, W. W. The Monkey’s Paw
Harper’s Monthly Sep 1902
Olden Tales ed. Bradford M. Day, Hillsville, VA: DayStar Press 1996

KING, STEPHEN The Reach AKA “Do the Dead Sing”
Yankee Nov 1981
American Short Stories (7th edition) ed. Eugene Current-Garcia & Bert Hitchcock, Longman 2001

OATES, JOYCE CAROL Extenuating Circumstances
Haunted: Tales of the Grotesque
New York: Dutton 1994

O’BRIEN, TIM The Things They Carried
Esquire Aug 1986
American Short Stories (6th edition) ed. Eugene Current-Garcia & Bert Hitchcock, Addison-Wesley Pub Co. 1966

MUNRO, ALICE Friend of My Youth
New Yorker Jan 22 1990
Short Fiction ed. Charles H. Bohner & Dean Dougherty, Prentice Hall 1999

ROSENFELD, STEPHANIE Grasp Special Comb and
in her collection of short stories: What About the Love Part Ballantine 2002

one star reviews

everybody gets them. I try to make them a learning experience, or at least I try to laugh at the worst of them.

Constructive criticism doesn’t hurt; it’s the stuff that writers need if they are really serious about their work. A lot of criticism out there is in no way constructive, and that sometimes does hurt, if I’m in the wrong mood or make the mistake of taking it too seriously. has caused a lot of writers some really bad moments, because of course the reader reviews are all anonymous and anonymity brings out the worst in some people.

Into the Wilderness has 192 reviews on Amazon, and ten of them are one star reviews. A few of those don’t like the novel because I’m not Diana Gabaldon. A few more don’t like it because Into the Wilderness isn’t a proper sequel to Last of the Mohicans (of course, I never said it was; it’s more of a retelling of Cooper’s The Pioneers; a [careless] critic called it a sequel, and I’ve never heard the end of it). Others have managed to find some bodice ripping somewhere in it (maybe some edition I never approved, what do I know?) and object on that basis. Some find fault with my historical research. Here’s the funniest one:

I was hoping Elizabeth would end up being a black bear’s main entree, but no luck. Of course, with her amazing luck, she’d have brained him with one of her “boots” and eaten him for dinner.Oh, I forgot. Elizabeth is so ahead of her time, she’s no doubt a vegan. [from Amazon]

There are, of course, many wonderful reader reviews on Amazon, very complimentary and encouraging. The point is that not every book is right for every reader. I’m not a huge fan of Hemingway but that’s my fault, for the most part. I wouldn’t put the blame on him. And what a boring place the world would be if we all liked exactly the same things.

Of course, editorial reviews are a different (and very complicated) matter altogether. More on that some other time.