Best Short Stories of 2021

Characters seeking connection, some weathering loss, and many uneasy in the relationships they do have wander the pages of the best short stories of 2021.

Barry, Kevin. That OlCountry Music: Stories. Doubleday. ISBN 9780385540339.

From a loner obsessing over a Polish waitress to a soon-to-retire cop trying finally to nail an elusive troublemaker, the characters in these 11 stories from Barry portray often solitary individuals seeking connection or meaning. Along the way, he uses his distinctively effortless prose to disclose an Ireland that remains eternal even as it modernizes.

King, Lily. Five Tuesdays in Winter. Grove. ISBN 9780802158765.

In her first-ever story collection, King explores finding love, finding oneself, and f inding that sometimes one can’t mend the rips in life’s fabric. Standouts in her stellar series of character studies include a neglected teenage boy getting much-needed attention from two house-sitting college students and a proud nonagenarian wanting to help his granddaughter.

McCracken, Elizabeth. The Souvenir Museum: Stories. Ecco. ISBN 9780062971289.

From a woman contending with her partner’s complicated relatives at a wedding gone chaotic, to a widow and her adult son looking for puffins in Scotland, to the children’s-show actress celebrating New Year’s Eve with her washed-up brother, McCracken delivers an elegant understanding of the family bond. Full-bodied stories that arc masterfully to compelling conclusions.

Moniz, Dantiel W. Milk Blood Heat. Grove. ISBN 9780802158154.

Focusing on marginalized communities and limning relationships, longing, and our uneasy passage through a world that often confounds us, debuter Moniz nails aching moments of naked human emotion in direct if luscious language. The tales are generally set in Florida, but the similarities end there; each entry is distinctive in its premise, and each will surprise the reader in a different way.

Murakami, Haruki. First Person Singular: Stories. Knopf. tr. from Japaneseby Philip Gabriel. ISBN 9780593318072.

In his latest collection, the masterly Murakami ranges from baseball to jazz and often infuses his writing with a magical touch. What drives the ensemble is the intimacy of his always using the first-person singular, and each story is singular indeed, with endings that are never obvious and never dispel the mystery he’s built up in the preceding pages.

Okri, Ben. Prayer for the Living: Stories. Akashic. ISBN 9781617758638.

A mirror belonging to Rosicrucian spiritualists, a cursed door taken f rom Newgate prison, a narrator’s desperate search for family in the wreck-age left by marauding soldiers—all feature in Nigerian-born, British-based Booker Prize winner Okri’s worldwide-ranging stories, which operate on multiple planes as they test the boundaries of reality. Rich, eclectic, and thought-provoking.

So, Anthony Veasna. Afterparties: Stories. Ecco. ISBN 9780063049901.

From a high school badminton coach lording it over his charges to a young go-getter fumbling a love affair with an established techie, debuter So incisively portrays Cambodian Americans—particularly those born to the generation that fled the Killing Fields—while also exploring the LGBTQ+ experience and community. Outspoken, unsettling, and wholly distinctive; tragically, So died before the publication of this collection.

Taylor, Brandon. Filthy Animals: Stories. Riverhead. ISBN 9780525538912.

Amplifying the success of his Booker Prize short-listed debut novel, Real Life, Taylor returns with an intimately observant, smartly aware collection conveying restive, often outsider characters in uneasy relationships and uncertain circumstances. Included are linked stories featuring queer, Black math graduate student Lionel, dealing with mental health issues as he stumbles through a host of deftly interwoven encounters.

Vásquez, JuanGabriel. Songs for the Flames: Stories. Riverhead. tr. froSpanish by Anne McLean. ISBN 9780593190135.

In the violence-glazed moments boldly plumbed by internationally award-winning author Vásquez, a soldier recalls pain both intimate and large-scale, a photographer pries into the traumatic past of a fellow guest at a ranch, and the story of a woman buried next to a graveyard follows a winding path from France to Colombia. Galvanizing and propulsive.

Wideman, John Edgar. Look for Me and I’ll Be Gone: Stories. Scribner. ISBN 9781982148942.

A family’s entire history emerges at a funeral, James Baldwin’s Evidence of Things Not Seen is thoughtfully revisited, and a man’s account of taking his son to prison is formatted as a letter written to famed R&B musician Freddie Jackson, whose “You Are My Lady” was playing on the radio as they drove. Wideman again pushes the boundaries as he explores family, loss, and America’s ongoing racial divide.

Comment Policy:
  • Be respectful, and do not attack the author, people mentioned in the article, or other commenters. Take on the idea, not the messenger.
  • Don't use obscene, profane, or vulgar language.
  • Stay on point. Comments that stray from the topic at hand may be deleted.
  • Comments may be republished in print, online, or other forms of media.
  • If you see something objectionable, please let us know. Once a comment has been flagged, a staff member will investigate.



We are currently offering this content for free. Sign up now to activate your personal profile, where you can save articles for future viewing