Short stories that will stick with you

Al Woodworth on January 23, 2020

Stories that stick: the short ones

I love story collections because they are so easy to dive into—for the first time, for the second time, for the tenth time. You don’t have to commit like a full-length novel and they can pack a punch just like a 200-page, or heck, a 600-page book can. Over the past week or so I’ve been thinking about collections that have stuck with me over the years. And it turns out there’s a very real and unifying theme in all of these books: home.

These four collections tackle the impossible, heartbreaking, and life-affirming transitions that tragedy, war, a change in faith or a new partner can bring; but what makes these ruptures so powerful is the change in home—whether physical or emotional—that these characters experience after leaving. From India to Idaho, through marriage and war, magical realism and real life, here are some short stories to get you thinking about the people and places you love.

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Barefoot Dogs by Antonio Ruiz-Camacho

We named this a Best Book of the Month in March 2015 and in this connected set of stories Antonio Ruiz-Camacho explores the universal connection that we all have to home, that at some point in our lives all we will want is to return home. For some that is given, and for others, an impossibility. In Barefoot Dogs, Ruiz-Camacho follows a family who is flung apart when their patriarch is kidnapped and they are forced to flee Mexico. Across generations, these men and women grapple with the legacy and tragedy that befell them and the home to which they can never return. These stories are fresh, exuberant, hilarious, strange, and crushing—and have a staying power is rare.

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Redeployment by Phil Klay

Redeployment by Phil Klay published in 2014 and immediately found readers—we named it a Best Book of the Month, and it later won the National Book Award for Fiction (something of a rarity for story collections). I remember reading this book on the subway and being utterly stunned by what Klay had written about the War in Iraq and Afghanistan and re-entry to civilian life—it was unabashedly raw, brash, shocking, and even sometimes (though it seemed sacrilege) funny. Klay’s prose glistens with a kind of authority (he fought in Iraq and Afghanistan) and deftly unravels the complexity of war and the danger, loss, psychological trauma, physical violence that so many soldiers endured and returned home with. 

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Interpreter of Maladies by Jhumpa Lahiri

Jhumpa Lahiri’s debut won the Pulitzer Prize for fiction in 2000 and twenty years later, it remains a classic to be read and celebrated. Across these nine stories, Bengali men and women grapple with civil war, marriage, relationships, new homes and cultures. With each story, Lahiri provides a new lens, a new eye, a new voice to investigate displacement, and the "malaise of men and women," as Domenico Starnone writes in his new introduction of the collection. Lahiri’s writing is lyrical and precise, which allows the everyday lives of the characters to resonate and breathe. It is no wonder that this collection captivated the Pulitzer Prize jury.

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Godforsaken Idaho by Shawn Vestal

In Godforsaken Idaho, which won the 2014 PEN/Robert W. Bingham Prize for Debut Fiction, Shawn Vestal draws on his own experiences as a former Mormon to re-imagine life in Northwestern America. He conjures the rough and rowdy reality of the American West, the humor and scrappiness of everyday life, illuminating the articles of faith that make us human. Loosely connected by a vast and sprawling family, these funny, soul-searching stories wrestle with religion, the conundrum of strange and wondrous relatives, and the places they leave, which they once called home.

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