5 New Short Story Collections That Will Liven Up Your Lunch Break
If you feel as though this January has lasted at least three calendar years; if you're barely 50 per cent awake by lunchtime, and 100 per cent asleep on your commute home, you're very far from alone. In this, the dreariest of months, you might find yourself daunted by the prospect of finishing a whole entire novel, or unwilling to trade more than 10 minutes of sleep for your typical read before bed. But worry not, readers: you needn't fall out of the habit altogether. Turn instead to a short story: specifically, try these five new short story collections, which offer thought-provoking, irresistibly compelling narratives in conveniently bite-sized packages.
Samanta Schweblin's Mouthful of Birds — featuring a literal mouthful of birds — will mesmerise as it disturbs, while N. K. Jemisin's How Long 'til Black Future Month? injects the supernatural into familiar landscapes. Try 'Cat Person' author Kristen Roupenian's You Know You Want This to keep abreast of the internet sensation's boundary-probing output, or look to Yukiko Motoya's Picnic in the Storm to see familiar relationship issues in a new, stranger light. Want something pocket-sized? Sally Rooney's Mr Salary has you covered. The last dregs of winter needn't sap your reading strength entirely, friends, and these short stories will help you out.
'Mouthful of Birds' by Samanta Schweblin
I recommended Schweblin's short novel Fever Dream last year, and it's with the same intense enthusiasm that I recommend Mouthful of Birds. The stories are unapologetically unsettling: the unorthodox mouthful of the title refers to a teenage girl who begins, to the horror of her father, consuming live birds. It's difficult to do justice to Schweblin's relentlessly destabilising tone; just read the book, though perhaps only in daylight.
'How Long 'til Black Future Month?' by N. K. Jemisin
N. K. Jemisin is a three time Hugo Award winner, author of the bestselling Broken Earth trilogy, and frankly, the most important name in speculative fiction. The short stories in How Long 'til Black Future Month? are set in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans, in New York City, in the Jim Crow era South, and in new, invented worlds. Through stories of witches, faeries, vicious spirits, and artificial intelligences, Jemisin fixes the spotlight on our own human society.
'Mr Salary' by Sally Rooney
Fine, this one's less a collection than it is a solitary short story — but what a cracking short story it is. There's next to no chance you haven't heard of Rooney's critically acclaimed debut Conversations with Friends, or her equally lauded follow up Normal People. In Mr Salary, a story first published before either of her novels, her trademark attention to the subtlest intricacies of relationships is on full display.
'Picnic in the Storm' by Yukiko Motoya
Motoya's short story collection takes familiar anxieties about relationships and twists them with brilliant unpredictability into the absurd. In "An Exotic Marriage," the narrator's husband becomes increasingly unrecognisable from the man she married — quite literally, as he appears to shapeshift from monster to snake to flower. In "The Lonesome Bodybuilder," the narrator physically transforms through a rigorous exercise routine, but her husband fails to notice even the most drastic changes. Concepts like gender roles, marriage, and identity loom large in the collection, and Motoya plays with them all.
'You Know You Want This' by Kristen Roupenian
You read "Cat Person." You tweeted about "Cat Person." You dissected "Cat Person" with friends, coworkers, and internet strangers in the comment section. Roupenian's new collection shares the viral story's forensic attention to gender, power, and inequity, but plunges further into horror and violence and desire. I'd love to resist the easy pun, but if you're interested in the online literary zeitgeist, you really do want this book.