May is Short Story Month, another sign that the genre is coming (or perhaps returning) to major prominence in the United States. With collections like George Saunders’ Tenth of December making it onto the New York Times’ bestseller list and successful novelists like Karen Russell releasing new books of stories, along with great sources of short stories like Amazon’s Kindle Singles finding success, it’s safe to say the short story is here to stay.
Not only are stories gaining ground in American letters, but they’re the perfect genre for the busy millennial. They are brief enough to read in the short bursts of time most young professionals or students have to read for pleasure. They’re often satisfying but open-ended, bite-sized but containing enormous depth and emotion. In short, the short story should reign supreme on young people’s reading lists. Here are eight great stories from (mostly) contemporary writers you should be reading.
1. The Semplica Girl Diaries by George Saunders
This story is perfect to read in light of the major debates raging on the treatment of immigrants, inequality and debt crises in America. Its voice is spot-on and its plot chills to the bone, but it’s never heavy-handed. Saunders is a true master — all of his collections are worth reading in full — but this story is one of his best of late.
2. The Graveless Doll of Eric Mutis by Karen Russell
Who doesn’t like a good creepy tale about childhood? This one has it all, from a scarecrow with scary implications to a bully with a heart. You’ll get to the end and crave more, more, more.
3. Halo by L. Annette Binder
Binder’s collection Rise, winner of the 2011 Mary McCarthy Prize in Short Fiction, represents an essential storytelling voice. Continuing in the scary-things-happening-to-children vein, the young protagonist in this story has a terrifying gift that weighs heavily on him. To give away any more would spoil an excellent read.
4. Americca by Aimee Bender
This little story is perfect in its just-off-kilter mundaneness. Its young main character struggles with the regular travails of childhood blossoming into adolescence, all while trying to figure out the mystery of regular household objects appearing from nowhere in her family’s home. The story is tender, hilarious, and perfectly balanced.
5. Axis by Alice Munro
Munro is another author whose body of work deserves to be read in its entirety, so it was hard to pick just one story. She writes about small dramas sparingly and with just the right shades of emotion, and this story, which covers 50 years in the lives of two school friends, is no exception.
6. The Kid by Salvatore Scibona
Clearly, I am a sucker for children in peril. This is one that packs a punch, and one that I have remembered vividly since the day I read it. It opens with a crying child in an airport. It appeared in the New Yorker’s fiction collection 20 Under 40.
7. Stone Mattress by Margaret Atwood
Most of us know that Atwood is masterful, but she is known more for her excellent novels than her stories. Who can resist an opening line like, “At the outset Verna had not intended to kill anyone”?
8. The Veldt by Ray Bradbury
Most of the stories on this list are fairly contemporary, but I couldn’t resist this older Bradbury gem. This time, it’s the parents who are in peril, but don’t know it … yet.