I love short stories! They offer the fun of fiction without the commitment. It’s like the opposite of the series; one sitting long, and you’ve got the plot, characters, and the closure. Here are a few sets I’ve enjoyed:
The Anastasia Syndrome
Mary Higgins Clark
These are slightly eery stories by a bestselling novelist reknowned for her ability to surprise. The author took her gift for creating suspense in some new and well-crafted directions with these, and they are well worth a perusal. The Anastasia Syndrome has a fantasy element to it, unlike her typical fare of crime/mystery novels, and is the longest story in the set, but still a short and easy read.
My favorite from this would be the title Lucky Day, a bittersweet tale of love and irony that has been rightly compared to O Henry’s The Gift of the Magi. I won’t say anymore about the plot, but it will leave you stinging and wanting more.
Collected Stories of Roald Dahl
Compiled by Everyman’s Library, these are classic Roald Dahl at his weird best. Murky and macabre, and disturbingly entertaining, his stories for grownups remind me a bit of John Grisham’s writing, in that there is often no real good guy. The hero of the story is as unworthy as the villain, and meets as bad an end, and the rest of the world around them is unfair and unsafe. Yet in spite of that dreary outlook, all the stories ring so pessimistically true that you almost can’t help but smile your way through them. Roald Dahl is a master of dramatic irony, and this copy is the first complete collection of his short stories in hard back.
A Fine and Pleasant Misery
Humorist and outdoorsman Pat McManus is a gem and a tribute to American backwoods culture. His self-deprecating style and, um… picturesque descriptions of backwoods life not only make me roar with laughter, but they make me wanna go camping too. I can’t explain it- he talks about everything that’s uncomfortable about being in the woods, exaggerating the worst of it, dramatizing the suffering of sleeping on the ground and playing up the potential dangers, and yet leaving it to sound “fine and pleasant” indeed.
His cast of characters, being his friends, family and a disgusting pet dog named “Strange,” are as colorfully bereft of character and quality as his outdoor excursions, and yet equally appealing. Don’t ask me how he does it; I really couldn’t say. All I know is that when I was a little girl, I used to look forward each new issue of my dad’s Outdoor Life subscriptions, just so I could read the next ridiculous installment of McManus’ cartoon life in the sticks. This is Americana humor at its finest.
Funny, intelligent, and full of fluffy anthropomorphic animals doing the kinds of things you don’t generally respect in people. These stories are witty if a little rye, and the characters are likable because of what they are- a couple lab rats, a journalist parrot preying on a museum curator pig. The illustrations are fun and the plot concepts are original. Both playful and sarcastic, enjoy these bite-sized narratives in your lunch break at work, and they’ll keep you thinking (and smirking about them) for the rest of the day.
The Four Million
A classic name in short storydom, The Four Million can occupy a long bored plane trip or a few minutes in a waiting room at the doctor’s office. I find I can always read ten at a time and enjoy each as much as one. Famous for his trademark twist endings, O Henry is kind of like watching Alfred Hitchcock Presents for me.
I began reading O Henry as a kid, and enjoyed their ageless construction then as much as I do now, and let me just add- I always feel like my vocabulary swells a little after I’ve spent some time with this material.