Books

Short Story Collections You May Have Missed in 2015

It took me a long time to really appreciate the short story. I hated reading them in high school and university, and was convinced my time would be better spent on novels. People would give me collections as gifts and they would sit, unread on my bookshelf collecting dust. A few years ago, however, I found myself reading a few more. And then a few more. And then I started writing some. And later even publishing some. And my appreciation for the form continued to grow until I found myself actively searching out short story writers and adding more and more collections to my wishlist. Now, however, I have a new dilemma: I may have learned to love short story collections, but I don’t know many other avid short story readers. And I think a big part of that is that readers simply don’t know about all the amazing options available to them. So here are a few collections, released this year, that got a little lost in the shadows.

Single Carefree Mellow, Katherine Heiny, 2015, KnopfSingle, Carefree, Mellow
Katherine Heiny
Knopf
February 13, 2015

Though Heiny’s work has been published by numerous sources, from The New Yorker to Ploughshares, Single, Carefree, Mellow is actually her debut collection and it is a fascinating look at women and the relationships they have with those around them. All eleven stories focus on a different woman, facing a different situation—a teenager loses her virginity to her teacher, a woman has a drink with her married lover’s wife, a woman living in New York in her 20s. Though there are some common threads running through the stories, the women of this collection are varied and they are complex.

Music for Wartime
Rebecca Makkai
Viking
June 23, 2015

I first came across Rebecca Makkai when someone recommended me her earlier novel, The BorrowerThe Borrower told the story of a young boy and the librarian who mistakenly kidnaps him and it was a humorous, heart-warming read that made me a fan for life. Music for Wartime is chock full of that same style, perhaps even more so than The Borrower. Makkai’s stories (many of which were inspired by her own family) are inventive and enchanting. Her characters draw you in, inviting you to be a part of their lives, if only for a moment. A particular favourite of mine was “Couple of Lovers On A Red Background,” in which a miniature Johann Bach lives inside a woman’s piano, and eventually develops a sexual relationship with her.

Barbara the Slut and Other People
Lauren Holmes
Riverhead
August 4, 2015Barbara the Slut and Other People by Lauren Holmes (Riverhead 2015)

How can you resist a book with that title? Especially when you combine it with that cover – the word ‘SLUT” written graffiti style across the front and back in bright pink. It’s a book that demands your attention, even if it has to shock you into taking notice.

Barbara, another debut collection, is filled to the brim with stories just as demanding as the cover that contains them. In “Desert Hearts,” a woman forsakes her law career in order to sell sex toys. In “Mike Anonymous” a worker at a sexual health clinic tries to deal with an incomprehensible patient. And in the fantastically clever “My Humans,” we see a relationship deteriorate, all from the perspective of the couple’s dog. The stories in this collection deal with some really interesting subject matter, but they manage to do so in a way that is both fresh and often laugh out loud funny.

Daydreams of Angels
Heather O’Neill
Harper Collins Canada
October 6, 2015

This collection was originally released in April, in Canada, where I think it’s safe to say it received the attention it deserved. O’Neill was already a big name in Canadian Literature when the collection hit shelves, her previous novels, Lullabies for Little Criminals and The Girl Who Was Saturday Night, were both bestsellers (and are absolutely worth reading as well). Later in the year Daydreams of Angels was shortlisted for the Giller Prize, one of the most prestigious literary awards in the country. So what’s it doing on this list? Well it wasn’t released in the United States until months later in October, and it didn’t seem to make quite as many waves there after. Which is a shame, as many of the stories in this collection are truly delightful. It’s been some time since I read these stories, and yet I still catch myself giggling at “The Ugly Ducklings,” in which a Soviet experiment is set up in a remote Quebec town, in order to clone one of Russia’s famous figure skaters. Honestly, it’s worth reading for that story alone.

A Manual for Cleaning Women by Lucia Berlin (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2015)A Manual for Cleaning Women
Lucia Berlin
Farrar, Straus and Giroux
August 18, 2015

The author of this collection, Lucia Berlin, was no stranger to short story collections. She wrote six others before she died in 2004. She is considered to be widely influential, and won a number of awards, but was never a bestseller.

Many of the collections I mentioned above use the absurd or the outlandish to make their points, but Berlin’s stories are largely based in reality, many even inspired by her own life. This posthumous collection of stories involve switchboard operators, mothers, hitchhikers, alcoholics. They’re gritty, and achingly honest, and once you start reading there’s a very good chance you won’t stop until you run out of pages. If there is one complaint to be had with this collection, it’s that sometimes one story just doesn’t feel like enough time with these brilliant characters.