I read a surprising amount of short stories every month.
I have so many anthologies on my Kindle that it is positively bursting. The bus I take to work allows me to read a short story on the way to work and on the way back. Two short stories per day. These days I’m mostly working my way through three collections, so I thought it fitting to pick a story I liked from each of them, to give you a taste.
1. Second Hand Magic by Helen Marshall
This is a story in Helen Marshall’s new collection, Gifts For The One Who Comes After. It tells of a boy with stubby fingers and a stutter that performs magic in front of the women in his neighborhood. The trick goes wrong and, with the help of a somewhat sinister woman, the boy disappears into his magician’s hat. And then the story goes dark.
The thing about the story is that it has an otherworldly feel from the start and Helen Marshall’s writing is just awesome. (Really, Johann? “Awesome”?) Ok, her writing is silky and invisible, qualities that many writers want but few manage without the reader noticing.
Check out this interview with Helen over at Dark Wolf’s Fantasy Review.
2. Escape From Spiderhead by George Saunders
This is a story in George Saunders collection Tenth of December. It might as well be any other story in the collection as it would seem that Mr. Saunders is some sort of short-story genius. This one somehow captured my attention because of the clear science-fiction element, something I wasn’t expecting from a book that I thought was “literary” through-and-through. It is about subjects in a sort of voluntary drug tests, where the drugs have extreme effects on the emotional states of the people. The characters are all prisoners who have agreed to take part in drug trials in lieu of regular prison stays.
In the story, Jeff is given a drug that makes him fall instantly and deeply in love with a woman he had only moments before not attracted to. They get the drug and then instantly fall in love, and then make love, right on the spot. And then, back out of love, shuffling around awkwardly. Later, Jeff is presented with choosing wether the woman gets a shot of pain, and he has no opinion either way. But then our Jeff gets to thinking, and a moral dilemma is presented to him.
This collection deserves all the praise it gets and more. Just amazing. Seriously, buy it now.
3. What Do You Do? by Gillian Flynn
So begins Gillian Flynn’s (of Gone Girl fame) short story in the fantastic collection Rogues. It tells the story of a woman who, obviously, gives hand jobs but has to give it up. The hand jobs were being dealt out in the back of a shop that gave psychic readings, and our main character is moved up, so to speak, into conning the gullible for money. She tells a woman that she can remove evil spirits from her house but once she gets there she finds out that perhaps it is her that is her that is being conned.
This anthology is all about tricksters, conmen and, indeed, rogues. So far every story in it has been a hoot. And if my recommendation doesn’t move you consider this: in addition to Gillian Flynn there are stories by Patrick Rothfuss, Neil Gaiman, Joe Lansdale, George Martin, Michael Swanwick, Cherie Priest, Paul Cornell, Connie Willis…
So. What are you reading?