I’ve always had a weakness for stories that live at the intersection of funny and weird. Straight up hilarious or bizarre is great in a story, but when you combine the two it produces a strange feeling of unease that I find oddly gratifying. If you have ever laughed at a situation or occurrence while reading a story and simultaneously thought ‘why the heck am I laughing at this’ then you know what I mean. Luckily, I’ve recently read three short story collections that are chock full of stories that fit the bill. Some veer a little more toward the strange and others toward the funny, but many of the stories are smack dab at the rarefied intersection of weird and funny. If you enjoy these types of stories as well, or just want to try something new, the short story collections listed below will definitely be worth your limited reading time.
American Housewife by Helen Ellis
This collection definitely brings on the funny as the author sets out to wittily skewer contemporary domestic mores and the traditional roles of women in the 21st century. She does so by taking a seemingly ‘normal’ situation and ramping it up to absurd levels with the story veering off into the truly bizarre: ‘The Wainscoting War’ records the email war between two neighbors as they try to claim the right to decorate their shared hallway with deadly results. ‘Hello! Welcome to Book Club’ is the story of the initiation of a new book club member who begins to realize that the book club wants to control more than just what she reads. ‘My Book is Brought to You by the Good People at Tampax’ is a standout and details an author’s subjugation to her book’s sponsor as it takes over every aspect of her life. While these stories are consistently funny, most head toward strange with pleasing results.
Homesick for Another World by Ottessa Moshfegh
The stories in this collection are more somber, but still provide some outstanding tales blending the humorous and the strange. The author has a knack for creating characters that are at once obsessive, slightly neurotic, and definitely odd but still sympathetic. You may just end up chuckling at their life situations in spite of yourself: ‘Bettering Myself’ is the story of an alcoholic teacher at a Catholic school who ensures her employment by fudging her student’s test scores. ‘Malibu’ introduces you to an odd nephew and uncle who spend their days in front of the TV, except to go out to find the perfect place to deposit the uncle’s ashes when he dies. ‘The Weirdos’ details a woman’s breakup, sort of, with her truly bizarre aspiring actor boyfriend who is convinced aliens exist and that the local crows are after him. The emphasis is more on the strange in these stories, but the funny is definitely there as well.
Children of the New World by Alexander Weinstein
A near future where technology has taken a disquieting and frighteningly plausible turn is the setting for most of the stories in this work. The author is great at creating a sense of unease, but is also capable of creating a strong sense of sympathy for his characters and their predicaments. While strangeness abounds in this collection, there is definitely a lot humor-but be warned that it is mostly of the dark kind: ‘Children of the New World’ details an infertile couple’s anxiety at having to delete their virtual children due to a computer virus. ‘The Cartographers’ is the story of a programmer who has developed a program that can beam other people’s memories into his own brain, causing him to not know what is real and what isn’t. ‘Rocket Night’ introduces us to an elementary school where parents gather annually to decide which of their children is least liked and then launch the unfortunate student into space. If you don’t mind your dystopian strangeness mixed with a little dark humor, this is the collection for you.
Enjoy these short story collections and free yourself from having to determine whether they are funny strange or funny ha-ha. Happily they are both.