Groff, Huebert, Moore, Smith and Thien

Short Stories in July, August and September

Whether in a dedicated collection or a magazine, these stories capture a variety of reading moods.

Over the summer, I’ve chatted about some of these at length. In particular, Madeleine Thien’s collection, which I was eager to return to, having been so affected by Do Not Say That We Have Nothing.

On exceptionally humid and hot days, sometimes the only reading I could manage was a single story, which gave me plenty of opportunity to dwell on the events therein.

When the weather became more cooperative, I read a story daily in Lisa Moore’s new collection, which has, since, been nominated for the 2018 Giller Prize:

David Huebert’s Peninsula Sinking (2017),
Carianne Leung’s That Time I Loved You (2018),
Lisa Moore’s Something for Everyone, and
Madeleine Thien’s Simple Recipes.

As well as the latest in my Mavis Gallant reading project:
The End of the World and Other Stories (1974).

And some standalone stories, too…

Lauren Groff’s “Under the Wave” (“The New Yorker” July 9 and 16, 2018)

“Sometimes the child felt a second self inside, a watchful and small and crouching thing. It was different from this child who ate and grew and slept, who walked bravely into kindergarten taller than the other children and already knowing how to read.”

What happens on the other side of a traumatic event, which leaves someone inwardly changed forever, when two people who have emerged in the same place agree to adopt and share a new reality which drops a curtain on the loss and devastation behind them.

And does an adult in this situation have a greater responsibility to an external truth or to an internal need?

The look on a woman’s face, which comes back to the girl’s mind “every time someone crumpled a sheets of paper into a ball” leads to unexpected sacrifices.

And readers move between images like the “grey vinyl of a bus seat, scored like aged skin” and a “strange flat brown landscape passing dreamily by the window”, unsure whether to be comforted or outraged.

Jane Ozkowski’s “Every Sin Is Gasoline” Maisonneuve Issue 62 (Winter 2016)

Having quite enjoyed Jane Ozkowski’s first novel, written for young adults, Watching Traffic (2016), I was curious about this story.

“That’s officially what killed her, her head hitting the counter. All of it was probably an accident, only the knife she was butting vegetables with was now in her chest.”

And…that’s the last thing I was expecting to find. But, even though many of my favourite stories offer a glimpse into quiet, often solitary, lives, not all of CanLit’s short stories are sedate. Here, we have Swedish Berries and Lion King figurines – and a knife where it should never be. This brother-sister story begins after the kitchen incident, but events swirl around it in memory; the scenes are vivid and dialogue-driven, and by the time the knife is lodged into Maxine, readers aren’t entirely sure why it matters, but the trip there was certainly engaging.

Zadie Smith’s “Now More Than Ever” (“The New Yorker” July 23, 2018)

“How Eastman still has a job we really don’t know. Not only does he not believe the past is the present, but he has gone further and argued that the present, in the future, will be just as crazy-looking to us, in the present, as the past is, presently, to us, right now! For Eastman, surely, it’s only a matter of time.”

This is a short piece which plays with the question of how we situate ourselves to consider what has come before and what will come after, and the responsibility we have to define and speak our own truths. In this story, individuals who are holding hands on one page are cutting all ties on the next, because someone has taken offense to an opinion. This clearly has nothing to do with the present-day, in which nobody ever gets offended.


Following Mavis Gallant’s death on February 18th, 2014, Margaret Atwood contributed this to a remembrance in “The Globe and Mail”:

“”Mavis Gallant was a wonderful writer, a sharp observer of human nature, a formidable conversationalist, and an indomitable spirit who made her own way, often uphill. She was funny, quirky, and prickly if you crossed her, but kind underneath it, especially to underdogs. Her unique voice will be much missed.”

Now that I’ve read 53 of her 123 short stories, I feel as though I am getting to know her a little, reading between the lines of her fiction. Not peering for autobiographical elements (although sometimes I do catch a glimpse) but watching for what she notices, what she troubles to observe and record.

From the Fifteenth District was published in hard cover in 1979, and the “Toronto Star” review claimed it “brings us Mavis Gallant at the height of her powers” and “set the literary world afire”.

The collection contains the following stories: The Four Seasons NOV1 / The Moslem Wife NOV7 / The Remission NOV14 / The Latehomecomer NOV21 / Baum, Gabriel, 1935 — NOV28 / From the Fifteenth District DEC5 / Potter DEC12 / His Mother DEC19 / Irina DEC26

Beginning in 2017, I have been gradually reading through 52 of Mavis Gallant’s published short stories.


One of my favourite story collections from 2017, which was longlisted for the Giller Prize: where do you find short stories to read?

Review here

From 2011 to 2015, I read through Alice Munro’s short stories, one after the next. An amazing experience!

Read More

Curious about the short form?

Wonder what makes stories tick?

A short story is a love affair; a novel is a marriage. A short story is a photograph; a novel is a film.
Lorrie Moore

A short story is a different thing all together – a short story is like a kiss in the dark from a stranger.
Stephen King

Collections of Enid Blyton stories. My copy of Toyland Tales is battered, I also filled in the hands on the clock puzzles, counted the mice following the Pied Piper and coloured people’s faces green.

Edith Pearlman, thanks to a recommendation from Julia, an enthusiastic short story reader and writer, who noticed we share a love of short fiction that tugs at the heart.

So many people can now write competent stories that the short story is in danger of dying of competence.
Flannery O’Connor

Write a short story every week. It’s not possible to write 52 bad short stories in a row.
Ray Bradbury

Short stories are tiny windows into other worlds and other minds and other dreams. They are journeys you can make to the far side of the universe and still be back in time for dinner.
Neil Gaiman

My short stories are like soft shadows I have set out in the world, faint footprints I have left. I remember exactly where I set down each and every one of them, and how I felt when I did. Short stories are like guideposts to my heart
Haruki Murakami

Outside of a class reader, the first story I remember rereading was in an anthology about a woman who is walking home alone at night and hears footsteps behind her. All the bejeebies were scared out of me, every single time.

In the same year: D.H. Lawrence’s “The Rocking-Horse Winner”, William Faulkner’s “A Rose for Emily” and Nathaniel Hawthorne’s “Young Goodman Brown”. It was a good year, but now I see that we did not study Tillie Olsen, Ethel Wilson or Charlotte Perkins.

A good [short story] would take me out of myself and then stuff me back in, outsized, now, and uneasy with the fit.
David Sedaris

When you read a short story, you come out a little more aware and a little more in love with the world around you.
George Saunders

Stories are not chapters of novels. They should not be read one after another, as if they were meant to follow along. Read one. Shut the book. Read something else. Come back later. Stories can wait.
Mavis Gallant

Follow one short story with two more and the impact of any one of them seems to be dissipated and diluted.
Susan Hill

Alice Munro’s A Friend of My Youth, as much for its quiet understated cover as my sense of needing-to-have-read-her-by-that-time. When I loved it, I began to buy collections as often as novels. Well, almost as often.

Fourteen. Highlights included Olive Senior’s The Pain Tree, Catherine Leroux’s The Party Wall, Langston Hughes’ The Ways of White Folks, and Cherie Dimaline’s A Gentle Habit.

I find it satisfying and intellectually stimulating to work with the intensity, brevity, balance and word play of the short story.
Annie Proulx

Somewhere around the place I’ve got an unfinished short story about Schrodinger’s Dog; it was mostly moaning about all the attention the cat was getting.
Terry Pratchett

And you? Any short stories lately?