by Laura Parker
“Short stories are journeys you can make to the far side of the universe and still be back in time for dinner.”
Neil Gaiman is right. The magic of a great short story is how quickly it takes effect. In a few small steps, you are in another world. A skilled short story writer gets you there before you even realise it – and the best writers can make it hard to return. David Sedaris the humourist complained that a good short story would not only take him out of himself, but when he was stuffed back in, he would be “outsized, uneasy with the fit.”
Short stories get straight to the point. Each word counts. Compared to the longer novel form, every sentence must carry more than its usual weight of character, expectation and surprise.
Some writers believe this is why the short story is more capable than the novel of reaching perfection. Ian McEwan says that the short story is “theoretically perfectible,” whereas a novel is “capacious, inclusive, unruly…sometimes too much like life.”
Lorrie Moore puts it like this: “A short story is a love affair, a novel is a marriage.” Let’s see: in a short story everything is magnified, intense, instantly gratifying. With a novel, the relationship is longer, more complicated, and for many, more satisfying. Are short stories the Tinder of the literary world?
Whatever the theory, and whatever your preference as a reader, there’s surely a special place for the short story in today’s world. Busy lives, short attention spans and Uber-quick delivery – there’s always time for a quick fling with a short story.
Ten of the best short story writers...
James Joyce (Dubliners)
Katherine Mansfield (The Garden Party and other stories)
Raymond Carver (Elephant and other stories; Will You Please Be Quiet, Please?)
Roald Dahl (Kiss Kiss)
Jorge Luis Borges (Labyrinth)
Alice Walker (In Love & Trouble: Stories of Black Women)
Lorrie Moore (The Collected Stories)
Alice Munroe (Runaway)
Jhumpa Lahiri (Interpreter of Maladies)
Nikolai Gogol (The Overcoat and other short stories)
…in our view. What’s your favourite short story?