1. ‘Burning Your Boats: Collected Short Stories’ by Angela Carter
Angela Carter was a visionary, important writer with an immense knack for creating startling, original imagery and fully-rounded female characters. Often, her stories are lushly sinister and full of unexpected turns. They are also ridiculously sexy and earthy – erotic, even. ‘Burning Your Boats’ brings together all four volumes of Carter’s short fiction (she was was a prolific writer, packing a monster career into her relatively short life), a perennial favourite being ‘The Bloody Chamber’, which reimagines classic fairy tales for the thoroughly modern, slightly twisted mindset.
2. ‘Sixty Stories’ by Donald Barthelme
Donald Barthelme is regarded, perhaps unfairly, as an existentialist writer, but perhaps he’s better known as the inventor of flash fiction – aka the really short short story. ‘Sixty Stories’ is a compilation of some of his best works and, while, there’s no real narrative structure as such, all are very entertaining and not a little bit head-scratching. Stories are more about occurrences and surreal situations and often need a second reading, though each read is as satisfying as the last
3. ‘The Apple’ by Michel Faber
Fans of Michel Faber will know him as the writer of Neo-Victorian potboiler of ‘The Crimson Petal and The White’, a doorstop of a book that mixes bodice-ripping with social realism, repression and a dollop of mental illness. ‘The Crimson Petal and The White’ garnered such a cult following that a BBC miniseries starring our own Chris O’Dowd was commissioned – ‘The Apple’ is a follow up of sorts to the novel, with short stories mostly concerned about the fate of various Crimson Petal characters.
4. ‘Drown’ by Junot Diaz
Pulitzer Prize-winning Diaz is the current Alpha Male of the short story form. His latest collection focuses on the life of Yunior as he travels from the barrios of the Dominican Republic to a different, but no more comfortable existence in New Jersey. Sharp, realistic and sense-smashingly heartbreaking, ‘Drown’ is slim in size, but packs the emotional punch of a proper saga.
5. Complete Stories by Flannery O’Connor
Could Flannery O’Connor be the best short story writer of all time? Her biography gives no real clue to her immense talent; raised in the South by Catholic parents, she enrolled in a women’s college and almost immediately started turning out stories of such immense power and economy of language that one feels that some sort of magical transformation may have taken place. There’s a novel’s worth of storytelling and character-building in every short story, so adept was she at capturing little nuances and quirks. Read it. Just read it.
Sarah Waldron @The_Licentiate