Selected Shorts | Reader's Shelf, October 15, 2018

One of the abiding pleasures of short stories is that their various landscapes invite readers to dip into a single, perfectly formed tale or settle down and drift into the entire collection. These six anthologies offer both experiences.

One of the abiding pleasures of short stories is that their various landscapes invite readers to dip into a single, perfectly formed tale or settle down and drift into the entire collection. These six anthologies offer both experiences—the single clarion piece and the compilation that seduces into reading more...and more.

Snakes, heat, and melancholy mark Lauren Groff’s Florida: Stories (Riverhead. Jun. 2018. ISBN 9781594634512. $27; ebk. ISBN 9780698405141), a collection that opens with a mother walking quickly through the nighttime streets of her changing neighborhood, trying to burn off her anger and anxiety, and closes with a mother and her two boys in France, on the hunt for evidence of Guy de Maupassant. In between are stories of sons and sisters, menace and rot. All are told with a keen sense of pace and presence that make the stories as hefty as Florida’s tactile weather. As would be expected from Groff, the language is killer, sly, sharp, weighted, and well matched to the tone of these stories that cut like a knife.

Throughout history, one of literature’s heaviest duties has been to expose people who have not experienced war to something of the realities of those who have. U.S. Navy veteran Will Mackin accomplishes this in Bring Out the Dog (Random. Mar. 2018. ISBN 9780812995640. $27; ebk. ISBN 9780812995657). It is a work of action, of dread, and of suspense, and it offers a relentless stark regard. Mackin’s work explores the ravages of boredom, the demands of battle, the stalking nearness of death, and the hyperrealized, random, and trippy thoughts of soldiers. In the opening piece, having nothing to do leads to a night raid and terror. In another, a weekly dinner sets up a skirmish involving personal dynamics. In all, an unnamed narrator participates full bore in the battles he is called to witness.

The story of a widow who has long yearned for what turns out to be a not-so-mythical beast opens Kelly Barnhill’s lavishly imaginative collection Dreadful Young Ladies and Other Stories (Algonquin. Feb. 2018. ISBN 9781616207977. $24.95; ebk. ISBN 9781616208301). The widow walks into church to mourn her husband. She has mice in her pocket and a dog, raccoon, and cat in tow. Far more animals will enter the church, and hawks and the priest will sing mass. This expressive and deeply described story begins a fantastical mix of tales about judgments and boundaries as well as death, wonder, and escape. In another moment, a brief sketch of possibility, a young girl draws the present and future in the dirt. Still other stories play on fairy-tale tropes. In all, Barnhill’s language is sweeping and poetic, her tone uncanny.

A mix of vibrant scene setting, pulse-beat pitch, and an enveloping vibe, both darkly humorous and devastating, marks Nafissa Thompson-Spires’s Heads Of The Colored People (Atria. Apr. 2018. ISBN 9781501167997. $23; ebk. ISBN 9781501168017). The stories range from the starkly conceived and jagged edge of the opening piece, in which two black men are shot to death by the police in the midst of their daily dreams and plans, to the zany exchange of letters through their young daughters between two academics engaged in a proxy fight. In others, a suicidal woman still wants relevancy on social media and two junior professors indulge in micro­aggression. The smartly composed selections exhibit a deftness in their unfolding, tightly paced rhythm, and rich bite.

The Wrong Heaven by Amy ­Bonnaffons (Little, Brown. Jul. 2018. ISBN 9780316516211. $26; ebk. ISBN 9780316516204) mixes bent humor with wistful, sometimes sad yearning in stories that explore definitions, desires, and connections. Many are layered with magic realism. In the opening piece, an elementary school teacher has conversations with a pair of plastic Mary and Jesus statues (she comforts, he judges). In another, a woman takes injections to become a horse. An angel visits a dying woman and both have sex on their mind. Others, such as the story of a woman who cannot get a song out of her head, are more grounded in the everyday anxieties and confusions that haunt us. All are engaging and provocative.

Story collections such as Worlds Seen in Passing: Ten Years of Short Fiction ( Sept. 2018. ISBN 9781250171238. $27.99; ebk. ISBN 9781250171252), edited by Irene Gallo, offer a range of pleasures. With works first published online, and some now in print for the first time, the anthology ranges across the speculative fiction universe and includes authors Charlie Jane Anders, N.K. Jemisin, Jeff VanderMeer, Yoon Ha Lee, Ken Liu, Kai Ashante Wilson, ­Kameron Hurley, and Genevieve Valentine, among others. Jemisin’s “The City Born Great” is about the ancient struggle of cities to be born, those who sing them into existence, and the foes in the way. It is a nice setup to Jemisin’s first full story collection, How Long ’Til Black Future Month?, publishing this November.

Neal Wyatt is LJ’s readers’ advisory columnist, contributing The Reader’s Shelf, Book Pulse, and Wyatt’s World columns. She is currently revising The Readers’ Advisory Guide to Genre Fiction, 3d ed. (ALA Editions, 2018). Contact her at

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Neal Wyatt

Neal Wyatt is LJ’s Reviews Editor. 

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