Recently, I came across a list of the 200 greatest short stories. I did the obvious thing and went through the anthologies in my house, reading a lot of the short stories. Some thoughts, mostly in the order in which I read the material.
Kurt Vonnegut’s Harrison Bergeron (#9)
Interesting brief vignette of a horrifying future in which everyone is forced to be average. Ayn Rand fans would love it, though it’s also likely to demonstrate to them that Kurt Vonnegut is a much better writer.
W.W. Jacobs’s The Monkey’s Paw (#78)
I’ve probably read this one before. It’s an exceptional work of horror, with the nastiest example of “Be careful what you wish for” that I’ve ever seen in fiction.
Kurt Vonnegut’s Welcome to the Monkey House (#105)
This one has something to piss off everyone, with a hero who uses rape to save a woman from a prudish society. It’s an exceptional work of satire, though.
Charles Dickens’s The Goblins Who Stole a Sexton (#93)
It covers a lot of the territory of A Christmas Carol, as a grouch gets a visit from supernatural agents during the holidays, and learns the true meaning of Christmas. In this case, a gravekeeper is visited by Goblins. It’s a solid short story, although no substitute for Scrooge.
O’ Henry’s Transients in Arcadia (#189)
Oddly enough, this wasn’t included in either collection I have of O’ Henry’s works, so I read it on a public domain website. It’s brief, and seems to be typical of the writer. This is what you would imagine a O’Henry tale to be. To explain why it works requires spoilers, as it depends heavily on the last page, but it is effective.
Kurt Vonnegut’s EPICAC (#157)
Considering how often Vonnegut appeared on the list, I was inspired to borrow a collection of his short stories from the library. This is kind of old-fashioned, but a fun take on the friendship between a computer and a working stiff.
Kurt Vonnegut’s All The King’s Horses (#152)
Usually you don’t come to identify with characters in a short story enough for there to be actual suspense, but this was an exception. I’m a bit surprised that this tale of a military man put in a horrifying position by a sadistic captor hasn’t been turned into a film.
Jorges Luis Borges’s Aleph (#27)
A fictionalized version of the writer becomes acquaintances with an awful wannabe poet. And then things take a turn for the bizarre when the delusional poet claims to have found something extraordinary. Weird, but fun.
Five of the tales from the 9 Stories collection made this all-time list of the top 200 short stories, which is probably the best ratio for any short story collection. This one was rated at number five. It’s worth rereading due to the fascinatingly unreliable narrator, although there’s a skeevy undertone, considering the girl on the cover is supposed to be thirteen.
Arthur C Clarke’s Hate (#173)
I’ve had a collection of Arthur C Clarke’s stories for the last decade, and somehow I avoided reading this story. I feel kinda cheated. It was a science fiction story that reads like historical fiction now. A careful character study of a pearl diver given an opportunity to do something really nasty.
Kurt Vonnegut’s Deer in the Works (#169)
Old-fashioned story of a small town guy’s first day working in the big city. Good enough workplace satire.
JD Salinger’s A Perfect Day for Bananafish (#30)
I bought Nine Stories a few years ago, just for this story. And it was worth it. Such a perfect take on a messed-up marriage.
William Gibson’s Johnny Mnemonic (#135)
It’s a satisfying crime story set by the creator of cyberpunk: a future noir, with satisfying details like doberman teeth implants, heroin addicted cybernetic dolphins and the brief reference to how the yakuza became the world’s top criminal organization.
JD Salinger’s The Laughing Man (#118)
All hail Salinger, king of subtext. Great example of the children’s view of adult drama trope.
JD Salinger’s Uncle Wiggly Goes to Connecticut (#131)
This story of a clearly unhappy housewife meeting with an unmarried friend is highly recommended to Mad Men fans.
Ernest Hemingway’s Hills Like White Elephants (#64)
I’m pretty sure I’ve read this one before. Fantastic work in which the reader is given just enough information to piece together a couple’s relationship.
Fantastic minimalist crime story. Reminds me of Tarantino, though it was written generations before Pulp Fiction.
Edgar Allan Poe’s Cask of Amontillado (#2)
I don’t know if this is the second best short story ever, but it’s quite good, as Poe shows a horrifying act of revenge from the point of view of the bad guy.
George S. Clason’s The Richest Man in Babylon (#15)
I’m really not sure why this story has the reputation it does. It seems to be sound, if strict, financial advise, in the guise of a fable. But it doesn’t seem particularly well-told, nor is there any sort of clever twist. Though for all I know, it may have been revolutionary at the time it came out.
Edgar Allan Poe’s Imp of the Perverse (#16)
This just makes me want to write a short story collection. For the first half of it, you think you’re reading a strange essay. And then the philosopher reveals the terrible things he’s done that tie into his unusual worldview. Quite satisfying.
The supernatural retribution is rather predictable, but it’s still chilling when it happens.
John Cheever’s Goodbye, My Brother (#19)
It’s a story that doesn’t seem to be from the typical point of view, as a rather self-aware man realizes how his unhappy brother views their family. In most other hands, he would have been the bad guy, and it would not be as compelling.
Edith Wharton’s The Dilettante (#149)
Odd take on social expectations and the ridiculousness of it all. Absurd comedy of manners in which we’re not sure of anyone’s motivations. Pinter, half a century earlier.
Nathaniel Hawthorne’s The Birthmark (#98)
It’s a bit predictable with a message that now seems anti-science, as a young mad scientist is driven to remove his wife’s one flaw.
John Cheever’s The Swimmer (#12)
Surreal. A 1950s suburbanite goes on an odd journey, as things around him seem to change at different speeds. Excellent sense of life passing the guy by.