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12 must haves for your home library

A gritty and compelling list of Short Story collections reflective of our times

Hia Datta (t2 Intern) Published 13.05.21, 01:05 AM

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American novelist and short story writer Lauren Groff’s Florida traverses the dark, hitherto untapped contours of the ‘sunshine state’, the overbearing mood of the place wafting through every story. The 11 stories in the collection are placed at the intersection of the natural world — snakes, panthers, storms, hurricane, etc, and the human world —a homeless graduate student, a mother who continuously reads about disasters, a woman who stays back in the home during a hurricane, driving into the very delicacy of life as it is today. Written in a lyrical style, partly phantasmagoric, partly dystopian, and realist, the collection also explores the interiority, and seething anger of women against the concrete, corporatised jungle, environmental wastage, and every societal construct foisted on them as mothers, wives, and in other predictated roles. An unputdownable, stirring read.


Five-Carat Soul

American writer and musician James McBride’s Five-Carat Soul is a patchwork portrait of the delightfully diverse African-American lives, penned in a surreal-cum-realistic style. The subjects of the stories range from telepathic zoo animals, an energetic toy dealer to a teenage funk band called Five-Carat Soul Bottom Bone Band in Uniontown, Pennsylvania. Packed with pathos and laughs, unexpected twists, and a perceptive understanding of race, history, humanity, cultural collisions, and identity around the ways of the world, his debut short story collection lives up to his literary renown.

The Ice Cream Man & Other Stories

Living in a hyper-capitalist world, or the ‘garbage times’ as Sam Pink put it, he bursts that bubble through a profound peek into the quotidian lives of the wage-working Americans, in The Ice Cream Man & Other Stories. Put down in startling detail, the stories are split into the cities and states of Chicago, Florida, and Michigan. The smells, sights, traits, tribulations of the everyday life of the working-class everyman such as a machine operator, a sandwich maker, a cone dealer, and more work their way to your heart in startlingly succinct, sharply self-reflexive, funny and poignant prose where moments of peace sneak through the daily labour for sheer survival.

Ambiguity Machines and Other Stories

The curiosity for knowledge and to unravel the mysteries of our universe finds an eclectic literary flight in Indian science fiction writer Vandana Singh’s Ambiguity Machines and Other Stories. A professor of physics, Singh masterfully mashes mythology, bringing to life the dead queens and Indian poets and the tales of ancient India with the latest concepts of physics. Her characters, and the protagonists who are Indian women, move through time and space to give a fresh perspective into the themes of loneliness, love, longing, hope, despair, the urge for human connection, and more. The brilliantly imaginative collection could be categorised and read as space opera, alternative history, climate fiction, and more.

Exhalation: Stories

From the pen of the well-known American science fiction and speculative fiction writer Ted Chiang comes this breathtaking collection of nine short stories of science fiction — Exhalation: Stories. There are scientists in another version of Earth where God, who is proved to exist and create the world, has forsaken them. There’s a simple machine called the ‘predictor’ which debunks the notion of free will. Ingeniously ideated in concise prose, every story ponders on the time-worn yet elusive questions of what makes us human and what makes up the nature of the universe, the nature of fate and free will, virtual reality, bioethics, and other themes, traced at the cusp of disruptive technology crashing into the human condition.

Sour Heart

Sour Heart by Chinese-American writer, poet, and essayist Jenny Zhang, is a collection of eight short stories weaved in the exacting style and precision of her writing with astonishing emotional surcharge. The feminist, Bildungsroman stories chart a collective sketch of the funny yet complex adolescent experience of Chinese-American girls in New York City within the immigrant experience of their families. Laced with startlingly razor-sharp and often scarecrow observations, the stories move through generations, from China during the cultural revolutions of the 1960s to the here and now in schools in America, exploring the in-between state of their identities and lived realities.

Alligator & Other Stories

Created and real sources are drawn into Alligator and Other Stories by Syrian writer Dima Alzayat. The collection of nine stories delves into the othering, differentiation, and feeling of displacement that tears in at the intersection of cultural identities, which, in the immediate context, are that of an Arab, Syrian, an immigrant, or a woman, that extends into the theme of global immigration. From the lynching of a Syrian American man in 1920s Florida, a woman trying to deal with sexual harassment while trying to succeed in her career, a sister preparing for her brother’s burial to the standout story Alligator, which pieces news articles, newspapers and historical records together to uncover the history of American racism, issues like racial violence, social justice, intergenerational trauma, loss of selfhood, family and nation are lent an intimate, evocative voice with a sense of urgency.

Sabrina & Corina: Stories

Denver-based American novelist and short story writer Kali Fajardo-Anstine’s debut short story collection Sabrina & Corina: Stories centres on the Latinas of indigenous ancestry, living in the American West, in the fictional town of Saguarita, Colorado. Eleven stories unfurl the alternative history of the American West through the eyes of the marginalised Spanish and natives. Stories of individuals and families who are displaced and dispossessed of their lands underpin the universal themes of desertion, the urge to belong, the concept of home and homeland, trauma, gender, class, and the feminine power of forging interpersonal relationships in the form of friendship, mother-daughter relationship and more, in lilting imagery and tender, affecting prose.

The Women Who Forgot to Invent Facebook and Other Stories.

Of, for, by women, perhaps accurately sums up Nisha Susan’s The Women Who Forgot to Invent Facebook and Other Stories. In this bold, shining collection of 12 short stories, many of which are narrated from the first-person point of view, women from artistic professions such as journalists, artists, singers, writers, dancers, copywriters navigate the composite nature of female experience within and through their set identities as girlfriends, mothers, wives, and lovers, some of whom are lonely and internally conflicted. There’s a young mother who keeps a check on objectionable content for a social media company, a cook in Delhi who is deeply concerned by her daughter’s mobile phone messages and a young wife in Mumbai who is fixated upon a dead woman’s online relics, baring the complexities and by-products of the digital age, or the new media age that we inhabit, and the shifting meaning of love, intimacy, interpersonal bonding, violence brought upon by Internet technology.

The Paper Menagerie and Other Stories

The Paper Menagerie and Other Stories by American author Ken Liu weaves together his multiple-award-winning stories that imaginatively spill fantasy over mundane reality. The central story, The Paper Menagerie is narrated by a Chinese-American child, whose mother immigrated to China as a mail-order bride. To revive the lost connection with her son who is embarrassed by her Chinese descent, she creates neat pieces of paper origami that give wing to his imagination, where the paper animal growls and plays with him. The variegated and distinctly textured stories of this seminal, distinguished collection juggle Chinese cultural heritage and folklore with love, and loss of magic while growing up, interspersed with the feeling of abandonment, cultural identity, and assimilation, the migrant experience, culture, politics, family and belongingness, the increasing dependence of mankind on technology and more.

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