By Stefanie Brook Trout
“A short story is a love affair; a novel is a marriage.”
“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.”
“Short fiction seems more targeted—hand grenades of ideas, if you will. When they work, they hit, they explode, and you never forget them.”
May is National Short Story Month, a time to embrace love affairs, peer through tiny windows, and catch hand grenades of ideas. I’ve selected a few stories to get your literary celebration started. From a longer short story broken up into subtitled sections, to a flash fiction piece of just a single paragraph without a stitch of dialogue, to a story written entirely through dialogue, these three stories illustrate some of the wonderfully various forms short fiction can take.
“Bony Fishes” by Richard Hartshorn (from Drunken Boat)
In this love affair of a short story, Hartshorn’s narrator April is a college dropout and museum docent who watches strangers, writes their fake memoirs, and reads them aloud at open mic nights. In “Bony Fishes,” April craves meaningful relationships but approaches people like exhibits: something to observe, analyze, and perhaps even debate but at the same time static, one-sided, and ephemeral, soon reduced to a storage room.
“Face” by Ravi Mangla (from The Collagist)
Mangla’s Lyle is a face placer. But when he cannot place a particular face, Lyle realizes that the skill that has now abandoned him is a curse but one with which his identity was inextricably bound. At less than five hundred words, “Face” is one of the tiniest kinds of windows, and even though the story is contained entirely within Lyle’s mind, the third-person narration keeps readers on the surface looking in.
“Night Orderly” by Ronald Friedman (from Bartleby Snopes)
Friedman delivers his hand grenade exclusively through dialogue. Winner of the Bartleby Snopes 5th Annual Dialogue Contest, “Night Orderly” is a conversation between Artie, a night orderly who was asked to transport a body to the morgue but broke protocol doing so, and someone else—perhaps another orderly simply commiserating or else a psychologist evaluating Artie after the traumatic incident. The story may be ambiguous in that regard, but it doesn’t stop this hand grenade from hitting and exploding in an unforgettable way.
“Graywolf Authors Celebrate National Short Story Month” (from Graywolf Press Blog)
Last May, Graywolf Press interviewed six of their authors, asking each them six questions about short stories, tough questions like “If short stories and poetry were to enter in a fight to the death, who would win?” and “Short stories are sexier than novels because __________.” Find out what Ben Percy, Susan Steinberg, A. Igoni Barrett, Jessica Francis Kane, Alan Heathcock, and Belle Boggs had to say and then follow the links to short stories by each of those authors. I promise you’ll be back in time for dinner.
Happy reading this Short Story Month!