11 Super Sad Short Stories To Read If You Really Need A Good Cry
There are days when you feel down, or overwhelmed by the constant and unceasing stream of pre-apocalyptic news coming at you from all sides. It's a lot. Sometimes, it's nice to unplug with a sweet, inspiring comfort read, a feel-good book that will remind you of all the good that's left in the world. Other times, it's nice to cry. Crying is beneficial to one's health, both mental and physical. I'm not saying that we should spend every single day curled up at home having a sob-fest and ignoring all of our civic duties, but, from time to time, a really good cry can be quite cleansing. So here are a few beautiful, heart-wrenching short stories to read when you feel like crying.
I mean sure, if you really want to kick off a prolonged bout of weeping, you can watch Disney's Bambi or re-read a John Green novel. But we're all busy people. Sometimes, you have to schedule your crying while hidden in a bathroom stall on your lunch break, or in the twenty minutes before your roommate comes home from work. That's where short stories come in. Each of these tales offer heartbreak and catharsis in the space of a few paragraphs, and they're guaranteed to make you feel something in ten minutes or less:
'The Paper Menagerie' by Ken Liu
"The Paper Menagerie" is about a boy whose mother can breathe life into her origami creatures. Little deer and bears made out of wrapping paper, walking around. That sounds charming, right? And totally adorable? It is, and it is also a poignant, tear-inducing exploration of mother and son relationships, especially when those relationships stretch across cultures. Just try to make it to the end without getting all misty eyed over a little paper tiger.
'Haunting Olivia' by Karen Russell
In "Haunting Olivia," two brothers go snorkeling in search of their dead sister. In classic Karen Russell fashion, though, this story combines humor, grief, and semi-surreal weirdness to create something wholly unique. The result is this funny-yet-devastating story about loss and magic goggles.
'A Hundred and Twenty Muscles' by Rachel Heng
You just know that, with a name like "A Hundred and Twenty Muscles," this story isn't going to end well. Young Lea is fascinated by her classroom's pet rabbit, Domino. Specifically, she is fascinated with the way his bones and sinew connect, with how delicate his rib cage feels, like it could be snapped right in half. This one is nauseatingly sad, and definitely not a story for the faint of heart.
'The Mark of Cain' by Roxane Gay
"The Mark of Cain" is not quite such a sob-fest as some of the other stories on this list. At least, there is not so much death and disease. But as our narrator describes being trapped in this bizarre marriage, with two husbands (kind of) and very little joy, it's impossible not to feel trapped with her, forever on the verge of tears.
'A Tiny Feast' by Chris Adrian
"A Tiny Feast" follows Titania and Oberon, queen and king of the fairies, and their adopted, mortal child. They do this sort of thing from time to time: take in a changling to save their tumultuous, fairy marriage. But this human boy has developed terminal leukemia. And even these ethereal fairies in their otherworldly court can do nothing in the face of human mortality.
'A Private Experience' by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
Or, if you're looking for subtler kind of tragedy, try "A Private Experience." In this short story, two very different women find themselves sheltering together to escape from violence. Their forced intimacy creates a strange bond, as both wait to hear if their loved ones have made it out alive.
'You Are Happy?' by Akhil Sharma
Again, the title "You Are Happy?" just doesn't conjure up a happy image, somehow. And the circumstances of this short story are, in fact, not particularly happy: we see through the eyes of a little boy as his mother descends into alcoholism. Akhil Sharma captures the pain of seeing a loved one slowly destroy themselves from the inside out, as well as the confusion of witnessing addiction as a child.
'Why Were They Throwing Bricks?' by Jenny Zhang
In "Why Were They Throwing Bricks?" Stacey finds her family invaded by her own grandmother, a women bent on creating strange fictions about their family, always with herself at the center. As usual, though, examining anyone's relationship with their grandmother too closely is going to uncover a lot of familial tension and inter-generational grief.
'All Summer in a Day' by Ray Bradbury
"All Summer in a Day" is set on Venus, where it rains year round. The sun comes out one day each seven years. Young Margot yearns to see the sun again, having moved all the way from the sun-soaked Earth. But her one day of summer is put in danger by some cruel classroom bullies in this upsetting sci-fi classic.
'The Bear Came Over the Mountain' by Alice Munro
"The Bear Came Over the Mountain" follows a couple, Fiona and Grant, from their vivacious youth to their old age. The story of their proposal is threaded through with scenes of Fiona entering a nursing home at age 70, showing signs of dementia, as their marriage begins to fray. Alice Munro is the queen of gut-wrenching, emotionally fraught short stories about ordinary lives, and this is no exception.
'Signs and Symbols' by Vladimir Nabokov
"Signs and Symbols" is one of the all-time classics of the funny, bittersweet short story genre, and it packs just as much of a punch today as it did in 1948. Nabokov tells the tale of an older couple, attempting to visit their son in a sanatorium on his birthday. They are not permitted to see him, so they go home. But woven into this simple plot are plenty of "signs" and "symbols" indicating that the truth of the situation might be far bleaker than either parent cares to see.