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Favourite Short Story Authors

It’s National Short Story Week here in the UK and I’ve been thinking about who my favourite short story authors are. I limited myself to five -the first two sprang out at me uncontested – but then it was hard to whittle it down.  This is who I came up with:

1. Lorrie Moore

I adore everything Lorrie Moore writes. On the face of it, the themes she deals with are pretty bleak – loss, broken marriages, infidelity, mortality and dealing with ageing parents – but she turns the melancholia into something beautiful and poignant. She is also very funny with a wry, ascerbic wit. I can’t believe she wrote her first collection of stories Self Help at just 27 – it seems so worldly wise.

Try: If I was recommending a place to start, I’d say buy The Collected Stories which has a selection taken from Self Help, Birds of America, Like Life and Anagrams.

2. Ali Smith

Ali Smith is the most mercurial of writers and excels in the short story form. I’ve seen her speak twice in person and the last time she read from a story called The Beholder about a person (it was left vague as to the gender but I will refer to ‘she’ for ease) steeped in grief whose father has died and caused a family rift, and she goes to the doctors having noticed a lump in her chest. You think you know where the story is going and then Smith completely blindsides you – the expected tumour is in fact a little patch of hardened bark which begins to grow shoots and then buds and blossoms into a rose bush. Soon she needs a trellis and garden stakes just to get around. This is what Smith does – starts with a rather believable situation and then soars off into almost magical realism, using allegory and myth and wordplay. The audience was in alternate hysterics and tears. 

 Smith was asked in the Q&A about which she prefers – the novel or the short story. They are very different disciplines – it’s like asking an actor do they prefer theatre or film.  Like Picasso, she is able to play about with structure and form because she understands the rules  and is then able to break them.

Try : First Person and Other Stories

3. Janice Galloway

I love Janice Galloway’s ‘voice.’  It is unflinching. Again, she deals with every day life – a trip to the dentist (it will put you off going for life), the butchers or the hairdressers. She has a way of writing without speechmarks and often using CAPS which I know annoys some people but if you concentrate, it is worth it. Scottish born, she pinpoints characters with absolute accuracy using the briefest of descriptions.

Try: Collected Stories

4. Helen Simpson

For observational powers, Helen Simpson can’t be beaten. She is sometimes dubbed ‘domestic fiction’ as if that was somehow derogatory but I’ve never understood that implied criticism. The second story in Hey Yeah Right Get a Life called Cafe Society absolutely nails the scene between two women out for lunch – one with a baby – and how that has changed absolutely everything. Author Maggie O’Farrell is quoted in the frontispiece to the book,” ‘There are short story writers who render the genre mere snipped-up sections of prose, the poor relation of the novel; and then there are those, like Simpson, who elevate it to an art from all of its own, who make you see its point.’

Try: Constitutional

5. Jon McGregor

This Isn’t The Sort of Thing That Happens to Someone Like You

The only man in my top Five.

These are haunting, unsettling disjointed stories, very hard to decipher in places and sometimes only a couple of hundred words long, a paragraph – or in one case, only one sentence – long.  They are like exquisitely crafted masterpieces and haunted me for ages – particularly this one, Wave and Fall, which was printed in The Guardian supplement.

There are many many more collections I like – notably Amy Hempel’s The Dog of the Marriage, Robin Black’s If I Loved You I Would Tell You This, Polly Samson’s Perfect Lives, Tessa Hadley’s Sunstroke and lastly – everything by Alice Munro.

I am ashamed to admit, despite having chosen the American Literature module at University I haven’t read any Raymond Carver or Hemingway (his short stories that is) and I’ve probably greatly missed out if you have any recommendations.

Who are your favourite short story authors?

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15 Comments Post a comment
  1. Robbie Carnegie #

    Although I’m not generally a lover of the short story, I always had a soft spot for Lorrie Moore (although I preferred her novel How To Save The Frog Hospital). And, whilst perhaps they’re not for all tastes, Clive Barker’s Books of Blood are amazing pieces of short fiction, so much more powerful than his somehat overblown novels – especially In The Hills, The Cities, a story with a brilliant, but horrible, central idea.

    November 15, 2012
    • I LOVE ‘Who Will Run The Frog Hospital’. One of my favourites of all time (was it you who bought it for me?). Haven’t read any Clive Barker – will give him a go,

      November 15, 2012
    • I’ve just looked at my copy of Frog Hospital – you gave it to me in 1996!

      November 15, 2012
      • Robbie Carnegie #

        Ha ha! Of course I did!

        December 7, 2012
  2. Alison -You’ve offered several new-to-me short story authors to try, for which thanks. I very much enjoy short stories although I generally read novels. And interestingly enough, the short story authors whose work I like also write novels (e.g. Ruth Rendell, Martin Edwards). That said though, I very much like Patti Abbott’s work. And I’ve recently read a very nice collection of Australian noir crime stories called Hard Labour for those who like their crime fiction dark. Thanks for inviting us to think about this.

    November 15, 2012
    • Thanks Margot – and thanks very much for continuing to comment on my blog. (bit behind with my reading of blogs at the moment). I of course know Ruth Rendell but haven’t tried any of her short stories. I don’t know Patti Abbott – thanks for the recommendation. My list is growing nicely! Thanks!

      November 15, 2012
  3. Linda #

    I love both Lorrie Moore and Ali Smith (although, I’ve not read her short stories). I am terrible at picking favourites — never like to feel pinned down, never can summon “my favourite and my best” on the spot — but I will offer up off the top of my head: F. Scott Fitzgerald and Irvine Welsh (always hesitate about him, wondering what it says about me that I like his brutal, profane prose so much; not sure myself).
    I’m sure more names will come. I’ve always enjoyed the short-story discipline, but don’t think it gets the audience and popular attention it deserves.
    The other names on your list are new to me. Thanks — I’ll add them to mine.

    November 15, 2012
    • Yes – it’s hard to pick favourites isn’t it? These are the ones that speak to me now at this stage in my life but they may well change. I’m in two minds about Irvine Welsh myself – I can admire his talent but they were too gross, visceral and downright disturbing for me. Although his profanity doesn’t bother me. Oh yes, how could I forget Fitzgerald – although again, I know his novels better.

      November 15, 2012
      • Linda #

        No, the profanity doesn’t bother me, either. I suppose by “profane,” I meant irreverent, vulgar, that sort of thing. Actually, I think I do know what I’ve liked about reading Welsh — it’s the idea that I’m sort of decoding a different language. Between the altered spellings, different phrases and word usages, and outright new-to-me words, I’ve liked the challenge of figuring it out without looking anything up. But maybe I’ve exhausted that because I just couldn’t get into or care about Skagboys, even though I wanted to. (But that’s a novel, so I’m veering off-subject!)
        But you’re right — disturbing and gross. Again, that’s why I am reluctant to bring him up. I remember shocking a co-worker after he asked to borrow a Welsh book I’d been reading. The books editor at the newspaper used to save them for me.
        Fitzgerald… always a bit in love with him. Never could resist a tragic-romantic.

        November 15, 2012
  4. Decoding is a good word for him. They had to have subtitles for the film Trainspotting didn’t they in America/Canada?

    Tragic-romantic? Yes – that will get me every time.

    November 15, 2012
  5. Sarah Piazza #

    Agree about Lorrie Moore. Also love Ray Carver, Alice Munro, Ann Beattie, and Ray Bradbury.

    November 17, 2012
  6. I, shamefully, haven’t read any short stories for years. But your post, together with Short Story Week, is whisking me off to change that. many thanks for the suggestions!

    November 21, 2012
  7. Sorry about the lower case – darned phone!

    November 21, 2012
  8. Alison, just in case you’re not busy enough and were wondering quite what you could do to occupy yourself over a mince pie and a glass of Baileys… I’ve tagged you in The Next Big Thing over at my blog. http://jackiebuxton.blogspot.com. Hope you’re not cursing me and hope you have time as I’d love to hear what you’re up to.

    December 7, 2012
  9. NyNy #

    Nice list 🙂

    February 5, 2013

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