Storyville: My Ten Favorite Short Stories of 2013
Before people get their noses all bent out of shape, here are the parameters for my selections. These are not the best stories of 2013, because I obviously cannot read every story written, every literary journal, every genre anthology. These are merely my ten FAVORITE stories of 2013. For the most part, these were released in 2013, a few from late in 2012, but they are all stories that I read for the first time this year. So, some of these stories may have originally been published a few years ago, but I tried to make this as current as possible. I selected stories across genres, not just literary fiction, but also fantasy, science fiction and horror, whatever stories really stayed with me. Most were in print, but a few are/were online. If there is a collection or anthology I’ll link to it, otherwise, if it’s online, I’ll shoot you that URL as well. The bottom line is that I really loved these stories—and if you haven’t had a chance to read them, please do so, if you can.
NOTE: I so wish I could list some stories from the anthology I’ll be publishing in 2015 with Dark House Press, Exigencies, but sadly, since they are not available yet, I cannot. But I do think some of those would have made this list. There ARE a few stories on this list that will be in The New Black, and I’ve noted them with a little TNB, for your convenience (out in May of 2014).
In no particular order, here we go:
I’ve read a lot of Brian Evenson over the years, and sometimes he’s a bit too smart for me, goes over my head, but this story is very accessible. What really works for me in this story about a brother, a sister, and a rather sinister window, is the way he creates tension, and then just when you think it can’t get any more intense, he turns it up a notch. When authors play with the idea of reality, and do it right, it really stays with me, freaks me out, and leaves me unsettled. Evenson is a master of settings, unique perspectives, and original story lines. I read this in his collection, of the same name, Windeye. TNB
If you haven’t picked up Tenth of December (National Book Award finalist) yet, do so—it’s one of the best books of the year, a stellar collection. I’ve already talked at great length about “Puppy” and I’m also a big fan of “Al Roosten” and “Escape from Spiderhead,” but the risks that Saunders took with this story, which originally ran in The New Yorker, are pretty extensive. Sprinkled with foul language, we follow a boy who stands up and commits a heroic, if violent, act, as well as a girl that lives in her own bubble, caught up in her own identity and thoughts—the two brought together by third perspective from the despondent predator. George Saunders is one of the best contemporary short story writers out there, and I don't say this lightly, nor am I alone in believing this.
While the short story collection of the same name is inconsistent, when Nick Antosca is on his game, he is brilliant. With a blurb from Peter Straub stating that he “…has reached a level of blissful mastery” these stories are dark, distressing, and hypnotic. Imagine a relationship where you and your girlfriend play some sex games here and there, spicing it up now and then. And then imagine all of that going horribly wrong. Take every paranoid, insane, jealous, and self-destructive moment from all of your own relationships and reduce them down into one concentrated evening—and this is the ride Antosca gives you. I found myself sick to my stomach, sweating, and upset. Which is, I think, exactly what he wanted.
I’ve talked about Lindsay Hunter before. She is one of my favorite authors, for so many reasons. Daddy’s was a great collection, and Don’t Kiss Me, out this year, is equally brilliant. I’ve been lucky enough to publish two of her stories, “The Fence” in the Black Lawrence Press anthology, The Lineup: 25 Provocative Women Writers, and “That Baby” in The New Black, both out in 2014. She is hilarious, I have never laughed so hard—and then in the next sentence or paragraph she’ll punch you in the stomach and leaving you curled up in a ball, crying your eyes out. This story about Peggy Paula is all about trying to fit in, trying to find your way in the world, and the great lengths that we go to in order to do that—the fantasies we’ve all concocted as teens, wanting to be part of the “in crowd;” the realities of some horrible monster we’ve slept with in order to feel alive. Lindsay speaks the truth, and she will break your heart. But it’s worth it, my friend, so worth it. If you don’t own both of these collections, pick them up now. TNB
What’s a short story list without Stephen Graham Jones on it? I actually had a really hard time picking one because he had so many excellent stories out this year. I ended up picking this one, which ran on Mixer, because it was a little different than his usual voice, and it was a story that really got my attention and held it. A woman is abducted and tortured, forced to try and solve a series of problems. It touches on a variety of concepts, such as fate and destiny, the randomness of the universe, and justice. If she answers right she can go home. I know that Stephen writes horror, but it doesn't always feel like horror, it just feels like life gone horribly wrong. Sometimes we are to blame, sometimes not. He finds a way to stare into the shadows, to investigate the darkness at the fringe of our lives where these sinister moments are happening, and it’s always entertaining, always hypnotic. I don’t think I’ve read a story of his and NOT said to myself, “Damn, I wish I’d written this. I wonder if I can steal it?” If any author pushes me to be a better writer, it’s Stephen Graham Jones. This story will be in his upcoming collection, After the People Lights Have Gone Off, out in October of 2014, with Dark House Press. His latest novel is Flushboy.
I finally got around to reading a significant quantity of KPB this year, much of it in his collection, The Number 121 to Pennsylvania. He’s probably known best for “The Turtle Boy,” a Bram Stoker Award-winner, or maybe Kin. This story was just picked up by Lionsgate, and will be made into a motion picture in the near future. I don’t read as much horror as you all may think, but Kealan is really a master of tension and suspense. This story touches on all manner of ghosts and false realities, unsettling in so many ways. It made me think of films like The Ring and The Conjuring. It’s dark, but grounded in reality, often drifting into the shadows, asking you to really be sure of what you saw, to question your own sanity, to wonder if such monstrosities can actually exist. In this story, they do.
If you’re looking for an author that is at the top of his game, somebody that is blending the best of genre and literary fiction, Benjamin Percy is your man. His collection Refresh, Refresh got a lot of attention, the title story winning a Plimpton and a Pushcart Prize, making its way into the Best American Short Stories anthology. Since then, The Wilding and Red Moon have been magnificent extensions of his literary voice, often dark, always lyrical—innovative in their desire to be both entertaining and deep. This story originally ran in The Missouri Review, and has a powerful sense of unraveling, that feeling of falling down the rabbit hole, the train running off the rails, coming full circle until you realize that maybe your protagonist is not all that sane, or reliable—that maybe the circle has come around, and bitten you in the ass. Do you know that moment of realization, the piercing terror the first time you watched a horror film and realized that the phone calls were COMING FROM WITHIN THE HOUSE! It’s that kind of unease, that painful realization. There is no escaping the outcome, so climb on up the ladder, and slip your neck into the noose. TNB
If you haven’t discovered Laird Barron by now, then I have a treat for you. If I’d been paying attention when the Ellen Datlow edited anthology Supernatural Noir came out in 2011 (one hell of a collection, by the way) I’d have read this story years ago. But like so many hopes and dreams it lingered in the dust of my bookshelves, mostly ignored. It wasn’t until his latest collection, The Beautiful Thing That Awaits Us All came out a few months ago, that I finally read this story. Paul Tremblay said it better than I can, in his blurb for this collection—“Laird Barron’s fiction is rich with images that are horrifying and shocking in their otherness, and in their beauty.” This story blends the best of myth and folklore with contemporary horror and crime to create a unique story of love, loss, and our carnal animalistic nature. Somewhere between Jack Ketchum and Neil Gaiman lurks Laird Barron.
There is an epic tome that was put together by Jeff and Ann VanderMeer called The Weird. It’s one of those books that is so huge (over 1100 pages) that one does not READ IT, one simply lives ALONGSIDE IT, soaking up its essence. This is where I ran across the writing of Micaela Morrissette. Her story mixes the imagination of a boy with an imaginary friend and dips it in the ink stain of some hidden horror. As a parent, the idea of your child turning into something unruly, a liar, paired with the idea of your control slipping through trembling fingers, adds up to a disturbing story, which is heartbreaking, and intense. We are constantly shown how loving a mother she is, her good intentions, and yet, in the end, it is worthless, it means nothing. The boy will have his way, and it will be their undoing. TNB
One of the best things that literary horror does is disguise itself as something that isn’t horror. You know that old saying about the best trick the devil ever pulled was making us think he doesn’t exist? This was a sweet story, set in a small town, and it lulled me into a soft, sweet, safe place and then drove that padded room off a cliff. Imagine there is a secret at the center of your small little town, your village—a darkness and perversion that is a kept quiet by so many of the townsfolk. How could you look your neighbor in the eye knowing the things that were going on behind closed doors? Known for her magical realism, and The Monsters of Templeton, Lauren Groff spins quite a hypnotic tale here, one that will catch you off guard, and then drag you off into the darkness.
What do you guys think? What were some of the best short stories you read this year?
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