This week, John Hornor Jacobs, R.Thomas Brown, and Jane Hammons shared their TOP TEN SHORT STORIES lists.
In discussing the first two lists, yesterday on Twitter the nice Jane Hammons and I promised to swap lists. Her list had some of my favorites: Alice Munro and Hemingway's "Hills," for example. Her list also mentioned "Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge," an interesting story that was a staple of my fiction syllabus when I taught undergraduates.
So, thinking quickly and with as little consternation as I could manage, I came up with a quick list that I posted in the comments of her blog.
Turns out, I kinda cheated. See, Conrad's "Heart of Darkness" is there in the top three for me, but you can't really call it a short story, I suppose. So I've replaced that story in the list with another of my very favorites.
And if you ask me in a month, I might swap out half of these. Holly Goddard Jones's "Theory of Realty" would be on here if the list went to 11. They're favorites, all of them. But picking 10 to share from the many I've fallen in love with is tough. Anyway, in no particular order, here's the list.
“Hills Like White Elephants” by Ernest Hemingway
There's a pretty nice version of this that ran on HBO many years ago in a series called "Women & Men." It started James Woods and Melanie Griffith. Most of Hemingway's female characters are Melanie Griffith. Or that dark-haired woman I always confuse for her sister. Jennifer Tilly. Or Meg. One of them. James Woods is a fine Hemingway guy, too. The HBO thing was nice. Of course, nothing compares to reading the line "Will you please please please please please please please stop talking?"
2. “Comet” by James Salter
Most of Salter is amazing. I'm told his novels are filled with humping. I haven't read the novels. The stories are just so beautiful, so precise, so heart-breaking. In this story, there's a line where it says that he knows the names of all the constellations. When you get to that line, you'll cry. I can't explain now, but trust me. It's awful.
3. “Burning House” by Ann Beattie
A party with people and their problems running against everything. The ending is sublime.
4. “Emergency” by Denis Johnson
As Jane Hammons and others have said, anything from JESUS' SON. I first found this story when Tobias Wolff read it here for the New Yorker.
5. “St. Lucy’s Home for Girls Raised by Wolves” by Karen Russell
This was in a BEST OF collection I read. I think Stephen King selected it. Another crotch-kick of an ending.
6. “Decoration Day” by John William Corrington
Read this one as an undergraduate myself back in the 1980s. Still go back to it. Corrington wrote a poem with the line "like women and plans/ best laid." Heh.
7. “Drinking Coffee Elsewhere” by ZZ Packer
I found out about ZZ Packer from an anthology Packer edited. What a story.
8. “People Like That Are the Only People Here” by Lorrie Moore
You have to be careful with this one, especially if you're a parent.
9. “A Brush” by John Berger
From Harper's magazine in 2010. A guy meets a woman and her husband in a swimming pool.
10. “What We Talk About When We Talk About Love” by Raymond Carver
I fell in love with this story before I knew its history of editing. That alone is fascinating. I could pick just about any Carver for this list. That one where the guy is in the bar and these two women come up and try to get him to take them to see their night-school instructor. Anything Carver but "Cathedral" I'd put in this list, I guess.