Short fiction has been on my mind a lot this year, both reading it and writing it. Many years ago, my minor as an undergraduate at the University of Washington was creative writing. Over the years, the time I have dedicated to this art has dwindled. This year I decided to reconnect with writing and take a short fiction workshop at the Hugo House in Seattle. It was an inspiring class and I had the opportunity to complete writing exercises, readings and a new piece of short fiction. I was reminded of why I enjoy short stories so much: the accessibility; the compactness that often contains something so profound; and the ability to finish reading something from start to finish in one sitting.
2017 brought us many powerful collections of short fiction and some common themes. Many of these collections are by women; some collections are Gothic and macabre, teetering on horror; some are strictly realistic and one or two will make you smile, if not laugh. So in no particular order, I present you with some of the most excellent short fiction collections of 2017 along with some of my own ramblings.
Her Body and Other Parties by Carmen Maria Machado
Carmen Maria Machado’s stories start off based in realities most women are familiar with: a marriage, a shopping mall, an inventory of what appears to be past relationships. Machado deftly twists these realities and suddenly you are in a world that you might only dream of and often these dreams turn into nightmares. The stories feature a variety of women: one with a permanent green ribbon tied around her neck and the husband who wants to untie it, women suffering from a disease in which they slowly fade away, and one woman who watches those around her die of a terrible plague.
Fresh Complaint by Jeffrey Eugenides
One of my all time favorite novels is Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides, so I was excited to learn of his most recent collection of short stories. The first story in his collection is called Complainers and spans the life of a friendship between two women, Della and Carol. The story is a commentary on the lives of Della and Carol and the emotional neglect that has been shown by their husbands and sons. Eugenides has an astute vision of the human psyche and human nature.
The Veneration of Monsters by Suzanne Burns
Suzanne Burns creates incredible atmosphere in her stories about our modern day lives, but they are not stark depictions of everyday reality. Instead, there is a lovelorn vampire, a man who is a mere figment of a woman’s imagination, and a woman who is so consumed with attracting a vicious predator that she becomes one. The stories definitely have a Gothic edge to them, but there is humor too.
Funny Girl edited by Betsy Bird
If you need to laugh out loud, then pick up this book and read it or better yet, read it out loud to a kid. This is a children’s collection of hilarious stories written by various children’s authors including some of my favorites: Cece Bell, Raina Telgemeier, Rita Williams-Garcia and Shannon Hale. My eight year old daughter devoured it and she said I must write about the story Over and Out by Lisa Graff. The story is about a younger sister and an older sister, an older sister who has hit her teen years. The story involves walkie talkies, a pink bra (that belongs to the teenager) that falls in the toilet (while the younger sister is going to the bathroom) and the arduous task of cleaning a now soiled pink bra.
Difficult Women by Roxane Gay
Roxane Gay is well known for her collection of essays, Bad Feminist and her memoir, Hunger. If you have enjoyed either of these books, then I highly recommend reading her short fiction as well. Each exquisite story in this collection features a diverse cross-section of strong women who have endured all that life has brought to them. Some have experienced unimaginable childhood trauma, others have lost children, and some are in terrible marriages while others are in loving relationships.
Because You Love to Hate Me: 13 Tales of Villainy, edited by Ameriie
This Young Adult collection is comprised of 13 different fairy tales and myths, mostly told from the villains point of view. The stories are written by a talented cast of Young Adult authors that include Nicola Yoon, Marissa Meyer and Adam Silvera. The interesting part of this collection is that each story is paired with a booktuber’s (passionate readers who upload videos of themselves to Youtube discussing books) commentary.
Anything is Possible by Elizabeth Strout
Elizabeth Strout is well known for her novels that include Olive Kitteridge and My Name is Lucy Barton. She writes masterfully about family dynamics and the constant struggle of finding out who we are. My favorite story in the collection is called Sister. It chronicles the return of the adult Lucy Barton (from My Name is Lucy Barton) to the home where she grew up. She has not seen her brother and sister for seventeen years and the pain that exists between them is palpable. As difficult as many of these stories are, there is warmth and some hope at the end of each one.
Things We Lost in the Fire by Mariana Enriquez
This collection of short stories is Mariana Enriquez’s English-language debut. Each story takes place in Argentina and is a commentary on both Argentina’s past and present. There is nothing light about the stories and sometimes the darkness verges on horror. The subjects range from three girlfriends who revel in self-destruction and another is about women who start setting themselves on fire in protest of the pervasive misogyny and abuse inflicted by men.