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He explores soul-grinding jobs for faceless companies and the dreams of the downtrodden as they are beaten down by their rich and powerful overlords.

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His writing is funny, it's dark, it's genuine, and it still feels fresh 20 years later. With this collection as a launching point, it's easy to see why Saunders has been rightfully called the next Vonnegut. These early stories are shorter and more restricted in setting and scope than her later ones, but they are just as astonishingly rich. Somehow, these quiet accounts of mundane lives in tiny Jubilee, Ontario, contain whole worlds and perspective-shaking insights.

Drinking Coffee Elsewhere by ZZ Packer I read this whole collection more or less by accident; I originally only intended on browsing the book but found I couldn't put it down. ZZ Packer's style is well-crafted, her writing flawless. And the stories are vivid, almost like stored memories you're only now recalling, because of her ability to tap into the core undercurrents that take place between humans, no matter their skin color, social background, or place in the world.

It's a brilliant debut.

100 Must-Read Contemporary Short Story Collections

Dubliners by James Joyce Here is Joyce at his most approachable and naturalistic, soaking in the culture of prewar Dublin. These stories are like facets in a diamond: the whole glittering. The concluding tale, "The Dead," might be the best short story in the English language, or at least the one most likely to make you weep like a child after every reading.

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Girl with Curious Hair by David Foster Wallace Most of Wallace's literary reputation rests on his novels the maximalist, futuristic tragicomedy of Infinite Jest in particular and his essays slice-of-life pieces about cruises and state fairs and David Lynch and everything in between. But a strong argument could be made that his greatest works were his short stories. Some of the pieces in this first collection, published in , hint at the complex themes of his novels — the intersection between mass culture and politics, the wide gulf that irony and postmodernism has created between us and our internal lives — and some have the biting, sharp humor of his nonfiction.

All of the stories suggest a writer thinking deeply about where our society was and where it was headed, for good and for ill. The title novella and five short stories tell of Jewish characters in, some said, a less-than-flattering light. When I read it, I see real people in less-than-happy situations any reader can empathize with.

Boyhood and youth

It's a fantastic beginning to a first-rate career. A Good Man Is Hard to Find by Flannery O'Connor You probably read a story from this collection in your high school lit class, and I can't stress enough that the entire collection is worth revisiting. O'Connor is exemplary of the Southern Gothic style: her stories are deeply rooted in the paradoxes of American Southern culture.

How to Write Short Stories That Sell With Alan Baxter

They each examine morality by way of strange, monstrous characters, but her style is never didactic. There wasn't a single story here that didn't leave me thoughtful and satisfied.

50 Short Stories That are Like Mini-Novels - Barnes & Noble Reads — Barnes & Noble Reads

The book is hailed as politically important in its sophisticated treatment of cultural intersections. But I love that these stories are also deeply personal. What they say about love, loss, and childhood perceptions is so right and so heartbreaking. I can't think of a better example of how the political and the personal are really one thing.

And it's only five and a half pages.

Critical perspective

But it has stuck with me for years. That is what Tobias Wolff does so well — take something simple and make it significant. His stories are built to last. Jesus' Son by Denis Johnson This is outsider fiction at its best.

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The narrator, a heroin addict without a name, drifts through a series of encounters on the fringes of society. Along the way, reality twists away from him, and he entertains violent fantasies and obsessions about the other "weirdos" he meets, before he eventually winds up in detox. These stories aren't for the faint of heart, but they are an intriguing view of a subculture most of us never even see. Alexie gives an honest account of the divide between natives and whites, reservation Indians and urban Indians, traditionalism and modern culture. In Mr.

Literary maturity

Tall, his first story collection in two decades, Tony Earley brings us seven rueful, bittersweet, riotous studies of characters both ordinary and mythical, seeking to make sense of the world transforming around them. He demonstrates once again the prodigious storytelling gifts that have made him one of the most accomplished writers of his generation.

In the title story, a lonely young bride terrifyingly shares a remote mountain valley with a larger-than-life neighbor, while the grieving widow of "The Cryptozoologist" is sure she's been visited by a Southern variant of Bigfoot. In "Haunted Castles of the Barrier Islands" a newly empty-nest couple stumbles through an impenetrable Outer Banks fog seeking a new life to replace the one they have lost, while "Yard Art" follows the estranged wife of a famous country singer as she searches for an undiscovered statue by an enigmatic artist.

In the concluding novella, "Jack and the Mad Dog," we find Jack-the giant killer of the stories-in full flight from threats both canine and existential. Earley indelibly maps previously undiscovered territories of the human heart in these melancholy, comic, and occasionally strange stories. Along the way he leads us on a journey from contemporary Nashville to a fantastical land of talking dogs and flying trees, teaching us at every step that, even in the most familiar locales, the ordinary is never just that.