In the fifth and final of our Best Short Stories of 2015 features there are many more great collections to celebrate. A huge thank you to all those who contributed and we hope you enjoy discovering new writers and stories as much as we have.
Between Here and Knitwear – Chrissie Gittins (Unthank Books) These twenty-two stories are tough, flexible fibres of Lancashire lives, wove together with laconic wit and warmth of feeling. A mother’s descent into schizophrenic confusion; a father’s rare public tenderness as he comes out in the snow to help his daughter on her Christmas post round; the clichéd parlance of estate agents vying to sell the family home; school crushes and the burn of love between parents at the end of their lives; reading Bunty and combing the hair of trolls in a friend’s bedroom; arguments, sex and raw solitude: all familiar, all seen anew.
Cockfosters – Helen Simpson (Jonathan Cape) Helen Simpson’s short story collections come out roughly every five years. Her appalled, lyrical vision of early motherhood has given way to the drier humours of middle-age. Her take on modern urban life is relentless and comic with touches of the surreal and fantastic, but there are darker cadences. Her stories are haunted by the approach of death, the violence of the world and the violence that puts its feet up and makes itself at home behind closed doors. If you don’t know her stories, start with this book. If you do, you’ll have bought it already.
Cheryl Lu-Lien Tan (Author and journalist whose work has appeared in numerous publications including the New York Times and the Washington Post, Cheryl’s novel, Sarong Party Girls, (William Morrow) will be published in July next year)
My hands-down favorite short story collection of the last two years was Man v. Nature by Diane Cook (Oneworld). It came out in the U.K. recently and was just shortlisted for the Guardian First Book Award. The stories – all in a dystopian setting in which people find themselves embattled with absurd, bleak twists in nature in some way – are simultaneously unsettling, haunting and hilarious. The last story in this collection, in particular, stayed with me for months after I read it.
Also, I loved Tel Aviv Noir a collection edited by Assaf Gavron and Etgar Keret. I love all the volumes of this city-based noir series done by Akashic Books – they’re such a dark, delicious window into a country or city. But this book in particular struck me – Yiddish ghosts, suicide bombers … this collection has it all.
My Documents – Alejandro Zambra (McSweeney’s) I can’t think of a writer I’ve recommended more over the past year than the Chilean Alejandro Zambra. My Documents continues his project of intermingling fact and fiction, and of somehow making work that’s at once metafictional game and moving investigation into the operations of memory.
New American Stories edited by Ben Marcus (Granta) Given how difficult it is to write one good short story, let alone 10 or 12, anthologies are arguably the best way to experience a writer’s best work. Provided, that is, you trust the editor’s selections. Ben Marcus already had my trust, and in New American Stories he redoubles it. Skip forward to page 576 and start with Robert Coover’s mind-bendingly good Going For a Beer—his compression of life, the universe and everything into a little more than three pages—and go from there.
Leone Ross (Novelist and Senior Lecturer in Creative Writing at Roehampton University, Ross is an editor for that programme’s publishing imprint, Fincham Press and was a judge this year for MMU’s Manchester Fiction Prize. Her debut short story collection, Come Let Us Sing Anyway will be published in 2016)
Flash Fiction International: Very Short Stories From Around The World, James Thomas, Robert Shapard, Christopher Merrill (W. W. Norton & Company) In recent years, I have fallen in love with ‘flash’ or micro-fiction. And this wonderful collection by some of the best editors of flash doesn’t disappoint. From Mexico’s Josefina Estrada’s wonderful The Extravagant Behavior of the Naked Woman to Nobel Prize winner Czeslaw Milosz’s image-laden, desperate Esse this collection feels like eating a whole sideboard of delicious and unexpected amuse bouche. Sensual, thoughtful, political, in turn – all brave, all sweet in the mouth.
Screams & Silences ed Leone Ross (Fincham Press) At its heart, this collection of new writers is testimony to the lives of children. My own editorship aside, I can’t resist the chance to praise Nika Cobbett’s painfully inevitable One of Those, a story that slouches towards its denoument with horribly calm inevitability – and the sure, slow burn of Emily Parsons’ Pinewood. More than anything, editing these young writers reminded me of how identities can be solidified in a single night, or summer.
Closure: Contemporary Black British Short Stories ed Jacob Ross (Peepal Tree Press) It’s been 15 whole years since the last anthology of Black British authors: Penguin’s IC3. This ‘follow-up’ is a good ‘un and I think Peepal Tree should make it an annual event. Lots of women writers, too! Favorites include Judith Bryan’s darkly apocalyptic Randall & Sons and Pete Kalu’s tremendously mischievous Getting Home, sure to amuse bibliophiles.
Francesca Main (Editorial director at Picador)
I’ve enjoyed discovering the incredible Lucia Berlin this year, thanks to A Manual for Cleaning Women, the newly published posthumous collection of her stories introduced by Lydia Davis. Lucia Berlin has been one of America’s best-kept secrets until now. Her stories are a revelation: gritty, offbeat, funny, melancholy. You can listen to the author herself reading some of them here.
I’m currently smitten with Thomas Morris’ debut collection We Don’t Know What We’re Doing (Faber). It had me at the title, but the stories themselves are even better.
Sarah Salway (Writer of 3 novels, 2 poetry collections and a book of short stories, Leading the Dance, Sarah is also a Creative Writing teacher)
I was given a strict and simple question – what was my favourite collection of this year? So, here are two collections. One dating back from 1963 (with the oldest story in the book written in 1910), and the other from 1952. But there’s a reason for picking these two – Daphne du Maurier’s The Birds and Other Stories (Virago) and Junichiro Tanizaki’s Seven Japanese Tales (Vintage International)– and it’s very contemporary. Or at least it was one of the questions under discussion at the Aldeburgh Poetry Festival just earlier this month: Are modern poets (and I think we can substitute short story writers there) writing to show off the ‘decency of the writer’ at the expense of actually showing the reality around us?
I picked up Daphne du Maurier’s collection largely because I read Rebecca again recently and am now on a mission to ensure this amazing writer never gets forgotten. Shame on me. I’ve watched Hitchcock’s The Birds so often that it was a shock to realise I had never actually read the short story. So much scarier, so much colder than the film. The continuing desperate trusting sense that the humans will be rescued. Admittedly not all the stories here are as good, but I did love Kiss Me Again, Stranger too – not just a brilliant title.
Seven Japanese Tales was a revelation, written by the same author of the classic, The Makioka Sisters. These were stories on the edge – of cruelty, society, love, reason. But written with such complete dispassion and no judgement that I had to sometimes look back to check what I had just read.
Everything Ravaged, Everything Burned – Wells Tower (Granta) Populated by a stunning range of characters. Tower’s crystal clear style is a delight and his insights into the human psyche inspire us to see the world with new eyes.
Almost Famous Women – Megan Mayhew Bergman (Scribner) The stories in this collection shine the spotlight on 13 women whom history failed to give the attention they deserved. Provocative and complex. A modern masterpiece.
Love in the Anthropocene (OR Books) is a tiny book – five stories long, framed on each end with an essay – which is the result of a collaboration between novelist Bonnie Nadzam and environmental philosopher Dale Jamieson. It’s short but startling: the authors peer into the very near future we are creating for ourselves, and find it not apocalyptic, but terrifyingly mundane: Characters in Shanghai can change the temperature settings in a hot springs almost as virtual as their own relationship. “It’s a perfect river. Isn’t it?” says a father to his daughter, flyfishing in a safe and mosquito-free nature park. That’s not so bad – is it?
This book came out in 2013, but I Want To Show You More by Jamie Quatro (Grove Atlantic) was among the best things I read this year. Readers looking for 50 Shades scintillation in this adultery-themed collection will be disappointed, but the book as a whole has an intense, intellectual passion. It’s strange and sweet, direct yet lyrical. It could be the metal-conducting dress on the cover prompting me to say so, but a glance back through my heavily underlined copy tells me it’s the stories themselves that sent little electric jolts through my head and heart.
My favourite short story collections I read this year are Elizabeth McCracken’s Thunderstruck (Vintage) and Laura van den Berg’s The Isle of Youth (Daunt Books Publishing) Both have wonderful ideas matched with sharp wit and crisp prose.
I’m currently savouring Danielle McLaughlin’s Dinosaurs on Other Planets (Stinging Fly, John Murray UK January 2016)
My hot tip for next year is K.J. Orr’s debut collection (Light Box (Daunt Books Publishing)) out in February.
Sara Davies (Writer, former award winning BBC Radio 4 producer, Sara commissioned scores of short stories from established and emerging writers as well as producing series such as Book at Bedtime and A Good Read)
The Boy Who Could See Death – Salley Vickers (Viking) Salley Vickers second collection calls on many of her recurrent themes: bereavement, betrayal, the power of secrets, the hidden lives of apparently ordinary people, and the sometimes fragile veil between the living and the dead. As in her novels, her characters are drawn with an forensic but compassionate eye, and she is brilliant at describing moments of human frailty with both humour and sympathy.”
All our Best Short Story Collections of 2015 posts can are available here