10 Unforgettable Short Stories

Jean Thompson picks the best of the best.

by Jean Thompson
Photograph: Simon & Schuster

normal">We asked Jean Thompson, whose new collection Do Not Deny Me has everyone buzzing, to list 10 of her most-loved  stories from other authors.  She answered:
Dorothy Allison has said that a good short story opens the door to a brightly lit room, and it’s hard to improve on that.  What I love about stories is their ability to fit an entire world into that bright room, an entire life, a moment when things change forever (for better or worse), and the feeling you can have when you reach the last word of the last page, that the ground has fallen away beneath our feet.  Something has happened in that fictional room that has mattered to us, has made us reconsider  the world we live in outside the printed page.  And now the light has gone off.

Can I only pick ten great short stories?  I have so many more in my pocket.

1.  The Old Forest, by Peter Taylor (from The Old Forest and Other Stories).  This nearly-novella length story about a Memphis of long ago is a wonderfully dramatized debate between civilization and the passionate desire to resist it.

2.  The Country Husband, by John Cheever (from The Stories of John Cheever).  Cheever at his mournful suburban best.

3.  A Good Man Is Hard to Find, by Flannery O’Connor (from A Good Man is Hard to Find and Other Stories).  O’Connor could take all ten slots in my opinion, but this story gives us the wonderful line:  "She would of been a good woman, if there was somebody there to shoot her every minute of her life."

4.  Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been
normal">, by Joyce Carol Oates (from Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been: Selected Early Stories).  Don’t talk to strangers.  Even cool ones.

5. Travis, B., by Maile Meloy (from Both Ways is the Only Way I Want It).  One of her many fine portraits in a world where there’s no good love.

6.  Meneseteung, by Alice Munro (from Friend of My Youth).  When writers go crazy, this is what it’s like.

7.  The Death of Ivan Ilyich, by Leo Tolstoy (from The Death of Ivan Ilyich and Other Stories).  All anybody needs to know about life, and death.

8.  The Handsomest Drowned Man in the World
normal">, by Gabriel Garcia Marquez (from
normal">Leaf Storm and Other Stories).  One of the best last sentences in the business.

9.  The Writer in the Family, E.L. Doctorow (from Lives of the Poets: Six Stories and a Novella).  I can’t read this aloud anymore.  I just cry.

10.  Her Secret Life, by Antonya Nelson (from Family Terrorists).  Never get a good writer mad at you.

First Published Tue, 2009-07-28 12:41

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