By Steve Weddle
Load up the audio version of THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO. Ready? OK. Go to the part where the lion roars and start to play it backwards. You'll hear that guy from Judas Priest saying, "The short story is dead."
Which doesn't make much sense to me, because I've been reading some great short stories recently.
I'm working on a series of short stories and found myself being drawn to the form. (Sheesh, that sounds corny. Do people say 'corny' anymore? Does that make me a square?)
So I ask a few folks for their favorite short story collections. Lyrical. Rural.
Jedidiah Ayres shoots me a list of about 83 collections.
JESUS' SON by Denis Johnson. I bought this one at a local bookstore and went on the webernet to download the audio version of "Emergency." The stories in the collection are about a young man named Mr. F. Head and his crazy life. I listened to "Emergency" while I was cutting the grass one day. Fantastic. Then I read through the rest of the book -- all 124 pages -- in one sitting. The stories are first-person some the mind of this drugged out character, falling in and out of beauty. The connectedness of the stories works here, never feeling gimmicky.
REFRESH, REFRESH by Benjamin Percy. Hell yeah. That first story that starts out with two kids in a backyard fight that isn't really a fight and the military aspect and the recruiter and the sled at the end. Wow, that's a good one. And you can read that story online for free here.
KNOCKEMSTIFF by Donald Ray Pollock. "Real Life" and "Knockemstiff" are two fantastic pieces of fiction. The first one is all about a father and son beating the crap out of a father and son in a toilet. Well, that's not all it's about. There's some thinky stuff in there, too. And "Knockemstiff" is one of those ugly, beautiful stories of hope and horror.
VOLT by Alan Heathcock. I was a bit worried about this one when I started the first story. Dead child. I'm not fond of reading about dead children. So I skipped that one. The rest of the book is spot on, you know? "Lazarus" is probably one of my top ten favoritest stories in the world ever in the whole world. Bonus: The NYT review of VOLT was written by Donald Ray Pollock.
MIRACLE BOY AND OTHER STORIES by Pinckney Benedict. Just hell yeah. As they say over at Bookslut, "This collection is timely and timeless with heart and cowardice and tenderness rolled into one very human whole." Damn right.
OUT OF THE WOODS by Chris Offutt. The story in here called "Melungeons" had me running to the webernet as soon as I'd finished. Are these people real? Turns out, yes. And they might be from the very county in which I work. Friggin small world, huh? "Barred Owl" is great -- about a couple of guys who "made it out" of Kentucky, but, of course, didn't. This is a book about place. About belonging. About what makes you part of something, and what makes something part of you. A great book if you're interested in short stories that tie together without feeling forced.
OK. There's what I've been reading that past couple weeks. How about you? You reading short stories? How about we share, huh?