June 28th, 2010 / 11:02 am
Random

FAVORITE SHORT

You only get one short story to read for the rest of your life.  What do you choose?  I might go with “The Hortlak” by Kelly Link.  Or “My Lord You” or “Platinum” by James Salter.

Tags: ,

162 Comments

  1. Steven Augustine

      Either Tiny, Expressionless Animals (DFW) or The Delicate Prey (Paul Bowles) or The Deathbird (Harlan Ellison)

  2. Steven Augustine

      erm, “Little” not “Tiny”

  3. J. A. Tyler

      One of Peter Markus’s Brother / Fish stories – they seem endless to me even after dozens of reads.

  4. ben spivey

      “The Open Boat” by Stephen crane

  5. Laryssa

      “Pet Milk” by Stuart Dybek.

  6. Kevin

      First thing I thought of was Grace Paley’s “Wants” but it’s only two pages long (must have read those two pages 100 times), so I’ll go with “The Long-Distance Runner” instead. I mean, if we’re talking about the rest of my life… “The Delicate Prey” is another one I love. Or I don’t know. This is impossible.

  7. rk

      This is almost impossible to answer.

      Barthelme’s “Views of My Father Weeping” maybe.

  8. Jane Hammons

      “The Dead” James Joyce

  9. ben spivey

      Good choice.

  10. JScap

      Yes!– “the sacred cheese of life!”

  11. Pete Michael Smith

      Voodoo Heart, by Scott Snyder is maybe the best short story ever. I must have read it a dozen times in the year or so since I found it.

  12. JScap

      Wow, what a question. It makes my teeth hurt to imagine such a situation. Today, my answer would be “The people who own pianos” by Kevin McIlvoy. But tomorrow, it might be “The Smallest Woman in the World” by Clarice Lispector.

  13. Eric Anderson

      Maurice Blanchot’s Death Sentence (although, it may be classified as a novella being 80 pages).

  14. J. A. Tyler

      Can someone please collect these into an anthology? Maybe one called THE LAST ONES THAT WE EVER READ? I would buy it.

  15. Alec Niedenthal

      Maybe I’d take the last two pages of that book.

  16. lorian

      jesus christ

      good old neon, dfw
      or
      a romantic weekend, mary gaitskill

  17. wax lion

      Bartleby the Scrivener, mothafuckas.

  18. d

      ‘The Great Wall of China’ by Franz Kafka

  19. Matthew Simmons

      Strays by Mark Richard

  20. Joseph Riippi

      Gut reaction: “Emergency” by Denis Johnson.

      On further thought: “The Gospel According to St. Mark” by Borges. Not Johnson.

      (As I type this, reconsidering and thinking: “The Fire and the Hearth” by Faulkner. Or “The Bear.” Or “Pantaloon in Black.”

      And then there’s Barry Hannah’s “Water Liars”…and then and then…)

  21. Kevin Biggers

      “Shower of Gold” or “Game” both by Donald Barthelme.

  22. Joseph Riippi

      That’s a great idea.

  23. bambi a.

      To Fill – Lorrie Moore

  24. Mary Miller

      Kevin Canty’s “Dogs” (from A Stranger in this World).

      I wish someone would compile a book of these!

  25. Morningstar

      Bartleby the Scrivener for sure.

  26. Laryssa

      Love this!

  27. Jake Zucker

      Harlan Ellison’s “The Man Who Rowed Christopher Columbus Ashore”

  28. Salvatore Pane

      I too am a huge fan of this story. Have you read Scott’s comics work?

  29. Salvatore Pane

      “Lady With the Pet Dog” by Chekhov or “Liars in Love” by Richard Yates.

  30. Matthew Simmons

      Yeah. Such an amazing story.

  31. Amy D

      James Baldwin, “Sonny’s Blues”

  32. Tim

      Something by Arthur Bradford.

  33. Tim

      Yeah, something by Johnson maybe. (I said Bradford below but forgot about Johnson.)

  34. Michael Ronald

      Three Way Tie:

      “How to Date a Brown Girl, Black Girl, White Girl or Halfie,” By Junot Diaz,

      “People Like That Are the Only People Here: Canonical Babblings in Peed Onk,” By Lorrie Moore

      “Raw Water,” By Wells Tower

      I’m weary to put “Raw Water,” because it’s come out in the last 5 years and hasn’t subjected itself the test of time, but the other side of me doesn’t think it needs to.

  35. M Cipris

      The Day We Got Drunk On Cake, William Trevor

      or Me and Mrs Mandible, Donald Barthelme

      or The Acquatic Uncle, Italo Calvino

      but probably The Day We Got Drunk On Cake

  36. chris kubica

      short story collections don’t sell.

  37. Rebecca Loudon

      Swamp Boy by Rick Bass

  38. Steven Augustine

      Either Tiny, Expressionless Animals (DFW) or The Delicate Prey (Paul Bowles) or The Deathbird (Harlan Ellison)

  39. Steven Augustine

      erm, “Little” not “Tiny”

  40. mudlove

      One of Peter Markus’s Brother / Fish stories – they seem endless to me even after dozens of reads.

  41. ben spivey

      “The Open Boat” by Stephen crane

  42. Laryssa

      “Pet Milk” by Stuart Dybek.

  43. Kevin

      First thing I thought of was Grace Paley’s “Wants” but it’s only two pages long (must have read those two pages 100 times), so I’ll go with “The Long-Distance Runner” instead. I mean, if we’re talking about the rest of my life… “The Delicate Prey” is another one I love. Or I don’t know. This is impossible.

  44. rk

      This is almost impossible to answer.

      Barthelme’s “Views of My Father Weeping” maybe.

  45. Jane Hammons

      “The Dead” James Joyce

  46. ben spivey

      Good choice.

  47. BAC

      “Wounded Soldier” Geoge Garrett

  48. Nick Antosca

      Oh yeah, Emergency. Actually that might be mine, too.

  49. Nick Antosca

      Good call on William Trevor. I almost said a Trevor but couldn’t decide which one.

  50. JScap

      Yes!– “the sacred cheese of life!”

  51. Pete Michael Smith

      Voodoo Heart, by Scott Snyder is maybe the best short story ever. I must have read it a dozen times in the year or so since I found it.

  52. JScap

      Wow, what a question. It makes my teeth hurt to imagine such a situation. Today, my answer would be “The people who own pianos” by Kevin McIlvoy. But tomorrow, it might be “The Smallest Woman in the World” by Clarice Lispector.

  53. Eric Anderson

      Maurice Blanchot’s Death Sentence (although, it may be classified as a novella being 80 pages).

  54. mudlove

      Can someone please collect these into an anthology? Maybe one called THE LAST ONES THAT WE EVER READ? I would buy it.

  55. Alec Niedenthal

      Maybe I’d take the last two pages of that book.

  56. lorian

      jesus christ

      good old neon, dfw
      or
      a romantic weekend, mary gaitskill

  57. Tim Ramick

      One of these three (probably the Kafka):

      “The Bridge” – Kafka
      “Lessness” – Beckett
      “The Beast in the Jungle” – James

  58. wax lion

      Bartleby the Scrivener, mothafuckas.

  59. d

      ‘The Great Wall of China’ by Franz Kafka

  60. Matthew Simmons

      Strays by Mark Richard

  61. Joseph Riippi

      Gut reaction: “Emergency” by Denis Johnson.

      On further thought: “The Gospel According to St. Mark” by Borges. Not Johnson.

      (As I type this, reconsidering and thinking: “The Fire and the Hearth” by Faulkner. Or “The Bear.” Or “Pantaloon in Black.”

      And then there’s Barry Hannah’s “Water Liars”…and then and then…)

  62. Garett Strickland

      ORBIT by Noy Holland

  63. Giovanni

      No question about it: “A Poetics for Bullies” by Stanley Elkin.

  64. Kevin Biggers

      “Shower of Gold” or “Game” both by Donald Barthelme.

  65. Joseph Riippi

      That’s a great idea.

  66. bambi a.

      To Fill – Lorrie Moore

  67. Mary Miller

      Kevin Canty’s “Dogs” (from A Stranger in this World).

      I wish someone would compile a book of these!

  68. Morningstar

      Bartleby the Scrivener for sure.

  69. Laryssa

      Love this!

  70. Jake Zucker

      Harlan Ellison’s “The Man Who Rowed Christopher Columbus Ashore”

  71. Richard

      man, that’s tough

      “Parts” by Holly Goddard Jones

      or

      “Puppy” by George Saunders

      or

      “”The Paperhanger” by William Gay

  72. Salvatore Pane

      I too am a huge fan of this story. Have you read Scott’s comics work?

  73. Salvatore Pane

      “Lady With the Pet Dog” by Chekhov or “Liars in Love” by Richard Yates.

  74. Matthew Simmons

      Yeah. Such an amazing story.

  75. Daniel

      “Climb Aboard the Mighty Flea” – Jim Shepard

      Love + Hydrogen, as a whole, is wonderful, but the last paragraphs of this just fucking lift-off.

  76. MG

      “Testimony of Pilot” by Barry Hannah, easily.

  77. Amy D

      James Baldwin, “Sonny’s Blues”

  78. Tim

      Something by Arthur Bradford.

  79. Tim

      Yeah, something by Johnson maybe. (I said Bradford below but forgot about Johnson.)

  80. Michael Ronald

      Three Way Tie:

      “How to Date a Brown Girl, Black Girl, White Girl or Halfie,” By Junot Diaz,

      “People Like That Are the Only People Here: Canonical Babblings in Peed Onk,” By Lorrie Moore

      “Raw Water,” By Wells Tower

      I’m weary to put “Raw Water,” because it’s come out in the last 5 years and hasn’t subjected itself the test of time, but the other side of me doesn’t think it needs to.

  81. Daniel

      “We have become the unbelievable. We are our own descendants, the children we have always wanted to be.” I mean, Christ.. This question prompted me to go back and take it down from the shelf again. Thanks, Nick.

  82. M Cipris

      The Day We Got Drunk On Cake, William Trevor

      or Me and Mrs Mandible, Donald Barthelme

      or The Acquatic Uncle, Italo Calvino

      but probably The Day We Got Drunk On Cake

  83. chris kubica

      short story collections don’t sell.

  84. Rebecca Loudon

      Swamp Boy by Rick Bass

  85. Janey Smith

      The Birth of the Poet, Kathy Acker.

  86. Jimmy Chen

      James Boice’s “Pregnant Girl Smoking”

  87. BAC

      “Wounded Soldier” Geoge Garrett

  88. Nick Antosca

      Oh yeah, Emergency. Actually that might be mine, too.

  89. Nick Antosca

      Good call on William Trevor. I almost said a Trevor but couldn’t decide which one.

  90. Tim Horvath

      “Demonology” by Moody. “Bullet in the Brain” by Wolff.

  91. Tim Ramick

      One of these three (probably the Kafka):

      “The Bridge” – Kafka
      “Lessness” – Beckett
      “The Beast in the Jungle” – James

  92. Emily Perkins

      ‘Bullet in the Brain’ for me too.

  93. Garett Strickland

      ORBIT by Noy Holland

  94. Giovanni

      No question about it: “A Poetics for Bullies” by Stanley Elkin.

  95. Pete Michael Smith

      no, but i’ve been meaning to. are they as good?

  96. Richard

      man, that’s tough

      “Parts” by Holly Goddard Jones

      or

      “Puppy” by George Saunders

      or

      “”The Paperhanger” by William Gay

  97. Daniel

      “Climb Aboard the Mighty Flea” – Jim Shepard

      Love + Hydrogen, as a whole, is wonderful, but the last paragraphs of this just fucking lift-off.

  98. MG

      “Testimony of Pilot” by Barry Hannah, easily.

  99. lorian

      shit, that’s a good one.

  100. lorian

      ooo or the jewish hunter

  101. lorian

      this thread makes me happy

  102. Daniel

      “We have become the unbelievable. We are our own descendants, the children we have always wanted to be.” I mean, Christ.. This question prompted me to go back and take it down from the shelf again. Thanks, Nick.

  103. Doug Paul Case

      “No Place for You, My Love” by Eudora Welty

  104. Janey Smith

      The Birth of the Poet, Kathy Acker.

  105. Jimmy Chen

      James Boice’s “Pregnant Girl Smoking”

  106. Tim Horvath

      “Demonology” by Moody. “Bullet in the Brain” by Wolff.

  107. Emily Perkins

      ‘Bullet in the Brain’ for me too.

  108. Pemulis

      Yellow Rose, by William Vollmann…

      …or Dr. Faustroll, by Alfred Jarry (though it’s been called a short story, a novel, and a novella).

      Good times.

  109. Pete Michael Smith

      no, but i’ve been meaning to. are they as good?

  110. davidk

      The Hospice, Robert Aickman
      The Jolly Corner, Henry James

  111. lorian

      shit, that’s a good one.

  112. lorian

      ooo or the jewish hunter

  113. lorian

      this thread makes me happy

  114. jonny ross

      ‘love too long’ by hannah is a top contender. maybe something from joy williams’ last collection. that bukowski story where a man shrinks down to the size of a clothes-hanger or something, that one always stuck with me for some reason. i don’t know, ‘facing the music’ by larry brown?

  115. Nick Antosca

      Good job, everyone! The majority of the stories mentioned in these comments are unread by me. I have (likely very rewarding) work to do.

  116. Doug Paul Case

      “No Place for You, My Love” by Eudora Welty

  117. KevinS

      Owls by Lewis Nordan. The Magic Trick or The Babysitter by Coover. Julie: A Memory by Larry Brown. Just about any story from Judy Budnitz’s Nice Big American Baby.

  118. Kevin

      I love Emergency. And Out on Bail. I read that one all that time.

  119. Pemulis

      Yellow Rose, by William Vollmann…

      …or Dr. Faustroll, by Alfred Jarry (though it’s been called a short story, a novel, and a novella).

      Good times.

  120. davidk

      The Hospice, Robert Aickman
      The Jolly Corner, Henry James

  121. Kyle Minor

      The problem with the question is that it raises issues that are different in kind than the kinds of issues that concern us most when we’re thinking about what makes a story great or lasting. Foremost among these issues is this: All the best stories traffic in big trouble. If some kind of draconian limitation has been placed upon your life such that you can only ever read one more story, you’re already near-drowning in big trouble, and not big trouble of the story variety, but big trouble of the life variety. So if you already have that kind of trouble, and you only get one story to comfort you, why would you choose the kind of story that best stories usually are, which is the kind of story meant to bring the opposite of comfort? It seems like if you picked a story like most of the stories people have offered here, you’d be inflicting a real psychological menace upon your future self.

      The short story is a little incendiary device. The best ones can blow you up the way the best poems can. I could see picking a big long narrative you might lose yourself in, such as the Bible or the Odyssey or the Arabian Nights or Ulysses or even (hell, why not) Finnegan’s Wake. Because there you’ve given your mind an organizing task to put itself to, and a cast of characters to keep you company through the long dreary mostly story-less life you have ahead. But one single killer short story would only serve I think to hasten your decline into sadness, and no thank you is what I’d say. Or else I’d cheat and pick one of those long stories that’s really a novella or a short novel but everybody still calls it a short story.

      When I was a senior in college, my girlfriend broke up with me, and I was sick sad. I was sitting in a living room full of decent books and really good serious movies, and near a library stocked with foreign films and continental philosophy and all of Faulkner and so on, and I don’t think I would have been able to bear five seconds of any of it. What kept me company all that time was watching Happy Gilmore over and over again. That’s a movie that tells us the story we want to believe about our lives instead of telling us something more true and ultimately more despair-raising. If you only had one thing to keep you company and comfort for the rest of your life, I don’t think it would be super-wise to pick the short story that tells the truth.

      I mention this for your own good, in case this fate actually befalls you. I hope it doesn’t. Now I’m going to read a little Denis Johnson and Barry Hannah and call it a night.

  122. I. Fontana

      Pleasant dreams.

  123. jonny ross

      ‘love too long’ by hannah is a top contender. maybe something from joy williams’ last collection. that bukowski story where a man shrinks down to the size of a clothes-hanger or something, that one always stuck with me for some reason. i don’t know, ‘facing the music’ by larry brown?

  124. Nick Antosca

      Good job, everyone! The majority of the stories mentioned in these comments are unread by me. I have (likely very rewarding) work to do.

  125. KevinS

      Owls by Lewis Nordan. The Magic Trick or The Babysitter by Coover. Julie: A Memory by Larry Brown. Just about any story from Judy Budnitz’s Nice Big American Baby.

  126. bleh

      Icicles, William H. Gass.

      Or In the Heart of the Heart of the Country, by same.

  127. Kevin

      I love Emergency. And Out on Bail. I read that one all that time.

  128. Joseph Riippi

      I would buy it, as I have many other short story collections.

  129. Kyle Minor

      The problem with the question is that it raises issues that are different in kind than the kinds of issues that concern us most when we’re thinking about what makes a story great or lasting. Foremost among these issues is this: All the best stories traffic in big trouble. If some kind of draconian limitation has been placed upon your life such that you can only ever read one more story, you’re already near-drowning in big trouble, and not big trouble of the story variety, but big trouble of the life variety. So if you already have that kind of trouble, and you only get one story to comfort you, why would you choose the kind of story that best stories usually are, which is the kind of story meant to bring the opposite of comfort? It seems like if you picked a story like most of the stories people have offered here, you’d be inflicting a real psychological menace upon your future self.

      The short story is a little incendiary device. The best ones can blow you up the way the best poems can. I could see picking a big long narrative you might lose yourself in, such as the Bible or the Odyssey or the Arabian Nights or Ulysses or even (hell, why not) Finnegan’s Wake. Because there you’ve given your mind an organizing task to put itself to, and a cast of characters to keep you company through the long dreary mostly story-less life you have ahead. But one single killer short story would only serve I think to hasten your decline into sadness, and no thank you is what I’d say. Or else I’d cheat and pick one of those long stories that’s really a novella or a short novel but everybody still calls it a short story.

      When I was a senior in college, my girlfriend broke up with me, and I was sick sad. I was sitting in a living room full of decent books and really good serious movies, and near a library stocked with foreign films and continental philosophy and all of Faulkner and so on, and I don’t think I would have been able to bear five seconds of any of it. What kept me company all that time was watching Happy Gilmore over and over again. That’s a movie that tells us the story we want to believe about our lives instead of telling us something more true and ultimately more despair-raising. If you only had one thing to keep you company and comfort for the rest of your life, I don’t think it would be super-wise to pick the short story that tells the truth.

      I mention this for your own good, in case this fate actually befalls you. I hope it doesn’t. Now I’m going to read a little Denis Johnson and Barry Hannah and call it a night.

  130. I. Fontana

      Pleasant dreams.

  131. James Spaders

      Pages From Cold Point by Paul Bowles. Because gay incest never gets boring.

  132. Drew

      “The Dead” by James Joyce

      (with audio version by Stephen Rea)

  133. bleh

      Icicles, William H. Gass.

      Or In the Heart of the Heart of the Country, by same.

  134. Joseph Riippi

      I would buy it, as I have many other short story collections.

  135. Emily

      The School, by Barthelme. Even considering how short it is.

  136. James Spaders

      Pages From Cold Point by Paul Bowles. Because gay incest never gets boring.

  137. Drew

      “The Dead” by James Joyce

      (with audio version by Stephen Rea)

  138. Emily

      The School, by Barthelme. Even considering how short it is.

  139. Dave Thomas

      Kyle Minor, that’s a damn fine point.

      That said, I would have to choose “Beach” (a.k.a. “Playa”) by Roberto Bolano, because, holy shit, what a story.

      And it’s short, only a few pages long, and gorgeous as well as incendiary as all hell, and, well, kind of sweet and redemptive at the end, so I feel pretty good about taking it as my last for however many years.

  140. Dave Thomas

      Kyle Minor, that’s a damn fine point.

      That said, I would have to choose “Beach” (a.k.a. “Playa”) by Roberto Bolano, because, holy shit, what a story.

      And it’s short, only a few pages long, and gorgeous as well as incendiary as all hell, and, well, kind of sweet and redemptive at the end, so I feel pretty good about taking it as my last for however many years.

  141. D.W. Lichtenberg

      A Small, Good Thing by Ray Carver (I just read the entire thread and saw no Carver—did I miss him? Is that possible? No Carver?)

  142. Dave Thomas

      “Beach” (a.k.a. “Playa”) by Roberto Bolano.

  143. D.W. Lichtenberg

      A Small, Good Thing by Ray Carver (I just read the entire thread and saw no Carver—did I miss him? Is that possible? No Carver?)

  144. Dave Thomas

      “Beach” (a.k.a. “Playa”) by Roberto Bolano.

  145. ZK

      A great story. I teach it to high school kids. Who knows what they think of it.

  146. ZK

      “Good Living” by Aleksandar Hemon.

  147. mimi

      me too

  148. mimi

      Yeah, and no O’Connor.
      Impossible for mimi to pick just one story.

  149. ZK

      A great story. I teach it to high school kids. Who knows what they think of it.

  150. ZK

      “Good Living” by Aleksandar Hemon.

  151. mimi

      me too

  152. mimi

      Yeah, and no O’Connor.
      Impossible for mimi to pick just one story.

  153. Goolsby

      Anything by Mary Miller

  154. Goolsby

      Anything by Mary Miller

  155. Liam

      Tobias Wolff – Bullet in the Brain

      or maybe Etgar Keret Cocked and Locked

  156. Liam

      Tobias Wolff – Bullet in the Brain

      or maybe Etgar Keret Cocked and Locked

  157. Dennis Mahagin

      “Helping” by Robert Stone

      or

      “Dirty Wedding” by D. Johnson

      or

      “Get Some Young” by B. Hannah

      or

      “Vandals” by Alice Munro

  158. mark

      investigations of a dog — kafka

  159. mark

      oops, didn’t mean to post that under yrs. blerghh.

      welty’s story really is so, so lovely, though, that’s a great choice. her range was aboslutely mind-blowing. to think she wrote that story, and, say, “powerhouse,” and “where is the voice coming from?” etc.

      i would add peter taylor, too, while we’re in the region. his “the old forest” i would not have a problem with anyone calling the greatest american story of the 20th c.

  160. Dennis Mahagin

      “Helping” by Robert Stone

      or

      “Dirty Wedding” by D. Johnson

      or

      “Get Some Young” by B. Hannah

      or

      “Vandals” by Alice Munro

  161. mark

      investigations of a dog — kafka

  162. mark

      oops, didn’t mean to post that under yrs. blerghh.

      welty’s story really is so, so lovely, though, that’s a great choice. her range was aboslutely mind-blowing. to think she wrote that story, and, say, “powerhouse,” and “where is the voice coming from?” etc.

      i would add peter taylor, too, while we’re in the region. his “the old forest” i would not have a problem with anyone calling the greatest american story of the 20th c.