If a novel is like a nice bottle of wine (every once in a while you surprise yourself by polishing one off in a single night) then a good short story is like a shot. After you’ve thrown one back, you feel like you’ve been punched in the face, but in a good way. Mostly.
Novels can work as a soul-soother, which is nice. But sometimes what you want is a jolt to your senses. You want to feel a big emotion fast. And you don’t feel like letting the tannins breathe or slogging your way through The Goldfinch, and you shouldn’t have to apologize for that!
Instead, what you want is a succession of intense experiences. You want to be a dog racing across an army base covered in snow. You want to lose your mind and declare yourself the King of Spain. You want to wreak havoc in a bloody emergency room, shove a fistful of questionable pills into your mouth, and go driving. What you want are short stories.
Here are my 10 recommendations for what to read, plus the shots to go with them. For the mixologists, there are recipes. Also, since the best cure for a hangover is a hair of the dog, or a dose of what did you in the night before, there are also links to more intoxicating stories from those authors. You’ll be fiction drunk for months.
1. "Hell-Heaven" by Jhumpa Lahiri + a Toastie
Why They Match: I'm about to risk sounding like a Jhumpa Lahiri character: the American girlfriend. She pops up in several stories to say to her Indian boyfriend, “I love your culture and your spicy food!” and is always broken up with for being too basic to exist. But, I love Jhumpa Lahiri’s writing and her spicy food! "Hell-Heaven"
is a lovely story, and I’m sorry to say, quite aromatic. So enjoy it with a cinnamony drink to match.
Toastie Recipe: Equal parts Amaretto and cinnamon schnapps
Hangover Cure: Unaccustomed Earth
2. "Emergency" by Denis Johnson + a 911
Why They Match: The 911 is dangerous because when the different alcohols combine (it mixes a spirit with a digestif and a liqueur) the effect trebles. "Emergency" is dangerous because it mixes hallucinogens, knives, and rabbits. To put it another way, both will mess you up very quickly.
911 Recipe: Equal parts Jack Daniel's, Southern Comfort, and Jägermeister
Hangover Cure: Jesus’ Son: Stories
3. "Drinking Coffee Elsewhere" by ZZ Packer + an Espresso
Why They Match: This story is shot from guns. It opens with Dina, the protagonist, telling her fellow freshmen at orientation that if she could be any object, she’d be a revolver. They recoil and her war against the whiteness that is Yale begins. Her anger and wit are razor sharp and her story is as invigorating as a triple shot of espresso.
Espresso Recipe: Combine one cafe, one barista, and one comfy chair
Hangover Cure: Drinking Coffee Elsewhere (the eponymous collection)
4. "The Long Distance Runner" by Grace Paley + a Pickleback
Why They Match: Grace Paley once said a good short story always has at least two stories. This is the story of a middle aged woman revisiting her past life, trying to figure out what comes next. It’s also the story of Brooklyn — how its neighborhoods keep changing yet never really change. This story is a Pickleback because nothing could be more Brooklyn than vodka and pickle juice, except for Paley herself.
Pickleback Recipe: One shot vodka chased with one shot pickle juice
Hangover Cure: Enormous Changes at the Last Minute
5. "Dog Heaven" by Stephanie Vaughn + a Bomb Pop
Why They Match: "Dog Heaven" is what America would look like if Americana were alive and well. The classic Norman Rockwell tropes are there — fathers in uniforms, mothers in aprons, children in mittens and a soulful, sneaky dog — but together they live in the enormous shadow of the atomic bomb. This story will make you nostalgic for your childhood. You’ll want a turbo rocket popsicle dripping down your fingers, but you’ll need a drink. Thus the Bomb Pop.
Bomb Pop Recipe: Equal parts Sprite, lemon-flavored vodka, Blue Curacao and grenadine
Hangover Cure: Sweet Talk
6. "Sonny’s Blues" by James Baldwin + Johnnie Walker Red
Why They Match: This story seems simple — a Harlem teacher takes in his prodigal younger brother, a musician and heroin addict who may or may not stay clean. But how can" Sonny's Blues" be simple when it reads like the music it celebrates and fills you up with hope, aching sorrow, and the need to drink a lot of scotch in a dark, quiet bar?
Hangover Cure: Going to Meet the Man: Stories
7. "Christmas Eve" by Maeve Brennan + a Three Wise Men
Why They Match: If you are one of those people, like me, that is alternately morose and joyful at Christmas (it’s a bad combination of being sentimental about an idyllic childhood and, well, mortality) than this is the story for you. Brennan takes the melancholy up several notches just by being Irish.
Three Wise Men Recipe: Equal parts Johnnie Walker, Jim Beam, and Jack Daniel's
Hangover Cure: The Springs of Affection: Stories of Dublin
8. "Diary of a Madman" by Nikolai Gogol + a Russian Roulette
Why They Match: Reading Gogol is a much better bet than playing a round of Russian roulette, but the two experience are similar: blatantly ludicrous and genuinely surprising. Gogol’s straight-faced absurdities will give you a spin. And when you try your luck at a few rounds of Russian Roulette (the drink, please, actual Russian Roulette will kill you) you may feel like the King of Spain yourself.
Russian Roulette Recipe: One part Kahlua, one part vodka, two parts Sambuca. This one involves fire. Let a bartender make it
9. "Night School" by Raymond Carver + a Boilermaker
Why They Match: "Night School" is the story of middle-aged, lonely people awake late at night. So that’s fun. The story, like the drink, is fundamentally working class — straightforward without gimmick or frill. Both drink and story accomplish a specific feeling of hopelessness. Neither is celebratory.
Boilermaker Recipe: One shot of whisky and one glass of beer
Hangover Cure: Will You Please Be Quiet Please?
10. "Good Country People" by Flannery O’Connor + a Georgia Peach
Why They Match: Knocking back a few Georgia Peaches will give you the confidence to try one of the best come-on lines ever. A line that could only come from the mind of Flannery O’Connor. A line that makes this story one of the best ever written; “Show me where your wooden leg joins on.” I can’t think of a better recommendation than that.
Georgia Peach Recipe: Equal parts peach schnapps and Southern Comfort
Hangover Cure: A Good Man is Hard to Find