What was the best short story you read in the last 10 years?
August 28, 2010 5:52 AM   Subscribe

What is the single best short story you've read in the last ten years? Preferrably published in the last ten years, bonus points if the writer is doing something innovative or exciting.

I used to like reading the Best American Short Stories anthologies but I haven't read one in a while, so I'd like to condense the last 10 years into about one volume's worth of reading, and also to have stories from far beyond the US.

I must've missed some great stories from the New Yorker, right? On a week to week basis, I find the fiction a little lifeless, but I used to love stumbling across the occasional gems. What have been recent must-read short stories from the New Yorker?

Also, some people get annoyed by a young writer showing off or enjoying their own writing too much; I'm not one of these people. I actually quite like it when a writer is enjoying themselves; I'd love recommendations for recent innovative writing that you really like, even if some people might describe the writing as too precious.

Thanks very much in advance.
posted by surenoproblem to Writing & Language (56 answers total) 161 users marked this as a favorite
Response by poster: If all of the extra stuff I wrote makes my request seem overly particular, just tell me about a short story that's great reading, and please disregard everything else I said.
posted by surenoproblem at 6:06 AM on August 28, 2010

I like Kelly Link and Ted Chiang; both have books out. Ted Chiang's book of short stories (Stories of Your Life and Others) doesn't have a false note in it. Kelly Link's short stories can be (to my eye) slightly uneven, but still worth reading, full of cool ideas and excellent turns of phrase. Two of her books (Magic for Beginners and Stranger Things Happen) are licensed under creative commons and therefore available for free download. I particularly recommend "Stone Animals" and "Some Zombie Contingency Plans" from Magic for Beginners.
posted by shamash at 6:18 AM on August 28, 2010 [4 favorites]

I'm a huge fan of Jeff VanderMeer's The Third Bear.
posted by emmtee at 6:18 AM on August 28, 2010 [1 favorite]

The one that springs to mind, and the one I most commonly teach, is Wells Tower's "Everything Ravaged, Everything Burned." I prefer the original version (from Harper's, I believe, anthologized in The Anchor Book of New American Short Stories) to the slightly rewritten version in Tower's collection. It was first published in 2002, and I'm not sure when it was first written, but I teach it as 9/11 fiction.

The last paragraphs in particular always get me.
posted by gerryblog at 6:22 AM on August 28, 2010 [2 favorites]

Seconding Wells Tower's Everything Ravaged, Everything Burned. It prompted me to buy the collection (in hardcover!) after a couple of years of exclusive library usage.
posted by mchorn at 6:23 AM on August 28, 2010

Oh, the slightly inferior revised version is online: "Everything Ravaged, Everything Burned."
posted by gerryblog at 6:23 AM on August 28, 2010 [2 favorites]

Adam Johnson - "Teen Sniper."

George Saunders - "The 400 Pound CEO."
posted by googly at 6:27 AM on August 28, 2010 [2 favorites]

Neil Gaiman - Murder Mysteries
posted by cali59 at 6:55 AM on August 28, 2010 [3 favorites]

Our tastes differ a little, insofar as writing can strike me as "too precious." So, these recommendations may not hit your sweet spot, but since you're casting a wider net too, you should know about these authors, if you don't already.

Ben Fountain - Near-Extinct Birds of the Central Cordillera

Jason Brown - Afternoon of the Sassanoa
posted by .kobayashi. at 6:59 AM on August 28, 2010

Oblivion is a collection of short stories by David Foster Wallace. It's hard to choose one story from it, but if I had to I think "The Suffering Channel" would be the one. Honestly, anything by David Foster Wallace is phenomenal.
posted by Quizicalcoatl at 7:02 AM on August 28, 2010 [1 favorite]

Everything Ted Chiang.
posted by i_am_a_Jedi at 7:11 AM on August 28, 2010 [3 favorites]

Another vote for George Saunders. I pissed myself reading "In Persuasion Nation" in Harpers five years ago. It's now the title of a collection of short stories.
posted by Beardman at 7:13 AM on August 28, 2010 [1 favorite]

Seconding "Murder Mysteries" from the story collection "Smoke and Mirrors". I also particularly liked "Neverwhere" by the same author. It's almost certainly longer than what you're looking for, but it's a quick read, and as an American who's been to London and taken the Underground, and I found the author's interpretation of the area to be quite creative.
posted by Dr. ShadowMask at 7:38 AM on August 28, 2010

Ted Chiang, particularly "The Story of Your Life" within the collection of almost the same name.
posted by purenitrous at 7:38 AM on August 28, 2010 [2 favorites]

I'm not a big basketball fan, or a huge Jonathon Lethem fan and The Wall of the Sky, The Wall of the Eye collection was published in 1996, but the story VANILLA DUNK really grabbed me when I stumbled upon it a few years back.

"Vanilla Dunk" posits a future in which professional basketball players no longer rely on their own skills but instead wear exo-suits which duplicate the skills of historical greats.

Anything more would be to give too much away.
posted by philip-random at 7:40 AM on August 28, 2010 [1 favorite]

I was going to mention Ted Chiang but since he's getting plenty of recommendations already: Gene Wolfe is still writing great short stories. Try the collection Innocents Aboard - I particularly liked The Lost Pilgrim, and Houston, 1943.
posted by crocomancer at 7:45 AM on August 28, 2010

You sort of have to define "great" for us. Do you want incredibly funny, technically amazing, or something so emotionally gripping that it rips your heart out?
posted by mecran01 at 7:51 AM on August 28, 2010

I share your general sentiments about New Yorker writers. Try Daniel Mueenuddin and Yiyun Li for stories that are not the usual white suburban problems. You might also try getting a subscription to One Story magazine - one new short story every month - I like the Kindle version.
posted by matildaben at 7:52 AM on August 28, 2010

Oh, and seconding the recommendation for "Teen Sniper" and throwing in Adam Haslett.
posted by matildaben at 7:55 AM on August 28, 2010

Lydia Davis' "Kafka Cooks Dinner." There's an early version in Fence, but the better version is available in her book "Varieties of Disturbance," and in her collected short stories (released last year). She's doing some very interesting, experimental things, and some very good traditional short stories.
posted by munyeca at 7:58 AM on August 28, 2010

I, Row-Boat by Cory Dotorow. It's from his collection "Overclocked" and is available for free on-line. It's about a sentient row-boat whose life gets very complicated when a nearby coral reef achieves sentience too. Ends with a bang, as I recall :)
posted by JoannaC at 8:43 AM on August 28, 2010

Matt Klam read this at my school a few years ago and I found it very compelling.
posted by balmore at 9:01 AM on August 28, 2010 [1 favorite]

I'm going to chime in for Kelly Link. The titular story from her book Magic for Beginners is awesome. Also, "Catskin". Actually, I'm going to pull the book out and reread it right now.

Mefi originally led me to "Biographical Notes to 'A Discourse on the Nature of Causality, with Air-Planes', by Benjamin Rosenbaum" by Benjamin Rosenbaum. Loved that one too.
posted by Tesseractive at 9:21 AM on August 28, 2010

"The Kidney-Shaped Stone That Moves Every Day" by Haruki Murakami has stuck in my head since the first time I read it, and it has never left.
posted by buriednexttoyou at 9:46 AM on August 28, 2010

Fixed the Fence link to Lydia Davis' "Kafka Cooks Dinner" (since my sister is the editor and all :)
posted by nicwolff at 9:54 AM on August 28, 2010

Amy Hempel's collected works. I love the story Tonight Is a Favor For Holly.

She also has an amazing story on Oprah's website of all places.
posted by bibliogrrl at 10:13 AM on August 28, 2010

"Justine Laughs at Death" by Jincy Willett (from Jenny and the Jaws of Life) is so good that it makes me want to cheer every time I read it. No fooling.
posted by bakerina at 10:19 AM on August 28, 2010

The best short stories I've read have been from the Zoetrope: All Story series. There are a few I'd recommend, but I haven't been able to find them online... but... if you'd like a source of great short stories, I highly recommend subscribing. Four times a year, you'll get a magazine with a new batch. Here's more info.

I'd especially recommend their compiled collections of stories from back issues:
Book #1.
And #2.
Those can be had cheaply on Amazon, and they're a great bargain.
posted by 2oh1 at 10:20 AM on August 28, 2010

This Person by Miranda July
posted by snownoid at 10:30 AM on August 28, 2010 [1 favorite]

I don't know if it's from the last 10 years, but The Portobello Road is the best short story I've ever read.
posted by Ideefixe at 10:40 AM on August 28, 2010

I highly recommend Brian Evenson. He has a couple of books of short stories, the best I think is The Wavering Knife. The most recent is Fugue State. He writes in a very spare, compelling style that while unassuming at first, becomes very psychologically infectious. While he teaches at the MFA program at Brown, he isn't afraid to play up his genre influences, most notably horror. For instance, my copy of Fugue State has back cover blurbs from Jonathan Lethem and Kelly Link, and The Wavering Knife has blurbs from Samuel Delany and George Saunders.

From The Wavering Knife, I recommend "The Intricacies of Post-Shooting Etiquette," "Promise Keepers," and "The Wavering Knife." They all combine dark humor with a sort-of David Lynch-esque unsettling weirdness. They're the kind of stories that creep up on you and end up haunting you when you least expect it.
posted by fryman at 11:07 AM on August 28, 2010 [1 favorite]

I also want to nth the recommendations for Kelly Link, Ted Chiang, Lydia Davis and David Foster Wallace's Oblivion. All absolutely brilliant pieces of writing.
posted by fryman at 11:11 AM on August 28, 2010

Stories: All-New Tales, edited by Neil Gaiman and Al Sarrantonio is a recently-published collection of really great stories from a wide selection of really great writers across several genres. I've been enjoying it quite a lot.

"Eros, Philia, Agape" by Rachel Swirsky is fantastic. I read it on the train home and missed my stop finishing it. (Tor.com has a huge selection of short stories, too.)

"Mr. Penumbra's Twenty-Four Hour Bookstore is also wonderful.
posted by rhiannonstone at 12:02 PM on August 28, 2010

"Ask me if I care," Jennifer Egan, New Yorker March 8, 2010
posted by Jason and Laszlo at 12:26 PM on August 28, 2010

I don't know about best overall, but I read this yesterday and it made me tear up (and within the space of about 300 words, no less). Beginning, End by Jessica Soffer.
posted by jokeefe at 1:02 PM on August 28, 2010 [4 favorites]

And two of the best stories I have ever read are anthologized in the Oxford Book of Stories by Canadian Women in English: Mavis Gallant's The Moslem Wife (in the New Yorker of August 23, 1976, subscription required, unfortunately) and Linda Svendsen's White Shoulders. Take a deep breath before reading White Shoulders.
posted by jokeefe at 1:21 PM on August 28, 2010

"The Trial of Thomas Jefferson" by David Barr Kirtley changed the way I think about everything. Literally.
posted by moonroof at 3:14 PM on August 28, 2010

"Sarah Cole: A Type of Love Story" by Russell Banks, narrated on This American Life. I could not stop listening to it.

(Unfortunately I just checked and it is 11 years old...but I heard it a few months ago...does that still count?)
posted by The ____ of Justice at 3:37 PM on August 28, 2010 [1 favorite]

"Jon" by George Saunders, which can now be found in the aforementioned In Persuasion Nation.
posted by equalpants at 5:12 PM on August 28, 2010

"Servants of the Map" from the collection of the same name by Andrea Barrett. Servants of the Map, her other short story collection Ship Fever and her novel The Voyage of the Narwhal are all set in sort among the same interconnected group of people (across the 19th and 20th centuries) and I really love them all. They're about families and science and stuff. Beautiful.
posted by mskyle at 5:31 PM on August 28, 2010 [2 favorites]

Not sure if it's the best story I've read recently, or even really innovative, but it was certainly one of the most memorable stories I've read this year. It was linked in MeFi a few months ago: Spar by Kij Johnson. Wow.
posted by misozaki at 6:40 PM on August 28, 2010 [1 favorite]

Ben Loory's "The TV" stuck with me for a while, and it's definitely not one of your garden-variety New Yorker pieces.
posted by Bleusman at 7:38 PM on August 28, 2010

When you've finished with the Ted Chiang and want something completely different, try _Bullet in the Brain_, by Tobias Wolff.

The two most disturbing stories I have enjoyed are: _Gestella_, by Susan Palwick and _All My Darling Daughters_ (which I couldn't remember the name of and Googled and found a metafilter thread by someone who couldn't remember the name of it).
posted by novalis_dt at 7:58 PM on August 28, 2010

I want to add that Banks' piece is NOT a sci fi or fantasy story (given this list is heavy on those and you didn't note preferences for those genres, but fiction a la Best American Short Stories).
posted by The ____ of Justice at 8:00 PM on August 28, 2010

"Stockholm 1973" by Joe Meno is a short story that I couldn't stop thinking about for weeks after I read it. You can find it in his book "Demons in the Spring."

Second/third/fourth the above recommendations for anything by Lydia Davis and Amy Hempel.
posted by kelegraph at 8:09 PM on August 28, 2010

I was blown away by the 2009 Hugo nominated short stories. It was a really fine year. My vote went to 26 Monkeys, Also the Abyss, but the winner was the also-excellent Exhalation.

In recent years I've loved stuff from McSweeney's. The Ceiling is one of the scariest things I've ever read. I love stories that have an unexpected route to an inescapable conclusion and stop just short of it, and that's exactly what that is.
posted by kostia at 8:32 PM on August 28, 2010 [1 favorite]

Oh, also, if Best American Short Stories gets annoying to you in kind of a weird way, as it did me, switch to Best American Nonrequired Reading. Wonderful stuff in there. Good long-form journalism may as well be good short stories.
posted by kostia at 8:33 PM on August 28, 2010

Every comment here that does not recommend George Saunders has got to be because that person has not read any George Saunders yet.

George Saunders.
posted by Sallyfur at 10:01 PM on August 28, 2010

Dude, Metafilter, can you please be more predictable? I love how Ted Chiang has been mentioned more times that basically every contributor for Best American Essays from the last decade combined. (Ditto with DFW, Gaiman, Kelly Link and to some extent George Saunders.) On the one hand, yay sticking it to the NYer hegemony, but on the other--can we have another thread in which someone asks for art film recommendations and people pile on to suggest ST:TNG:BEST OF BOTH WORLDS parts 1 & 2 and SERENITY? Yeesh! Some rapid fire first thoughts:

Nami Mun will beat the crap out of your soul.

Joan Silber does far stranger things with time than most science fiction writers. Realist stories, but the stories continue several decades after the plot seems to have expired.

On the weirder side of life--Robert Walser is a long-dead writer but he's been translated a lot more in the last few years. He has an absurdist, agoraphobic, microscope writing style similar to Pierre Reverdy. When Kafka came out, he was described as a minor writer in the Walser strain.

Mavis Gallant is, to quote Anne Carson, the wittiest Canadian alive. "She recalls how, reading one of her stories, "The End of the World", to a group of bored schoolchildren, she started to cry because she had forgotten the ending and suddenly realised one of the characters was going to die – and her eyes, just a minute before creased with laughter, fill with tears across the table. "I could only stop myself by saying: 'It's only a story, pull yourself together.'""

Amy Hempel's IN THE CEMETERY WHERE AL JOLSON IS BURIED is, like the newer Wells Towers story, sort of a classic. Read it like a comic book where every third panel has been removed.

Who would think that one of the greatest formalists of American short fiction would also be a man who finds as his muse the music of middle class American English? Jim Shepard.

An old story but one of the best ones. Chekhov's LADY WITH THE LAPDOG was a story Nabokov rated with an A+ and that Mann called the best story of all time. It's not just about love, but about how we internalize other people watching us.

Jhumpa Lahiri's first story from Interpreter of Maladies is brilliant--it's actually about sentimentality. It's structured like a trap.
posted by johnasdf at 11:13 PM on August 28, 2010 [4 favorites]

One of my favorites is James Tiptree Jr.'s "Love Is The Plan The Plan Is Death." (Google cache link; not pretty, but functional, as the original scifi.com link is now defunct)

Not new, but alien and amazing. Totally captivated me. Okay, maybe not the best I've ever read, but one of the. And certainly the first one that came to mind on reading this question, and one I think worth anyone's time to read.
posted by po at 1:34 AM on August 29, 2010 [1 favorite]

I don't read a whole lot of short stories, but I liked "The Smoker" by David Shickler.
posted by exceptinsects at 8:06 AM on August 30, 2010 [1 favorite]

nthing Ted Chiang, particularly Understand.
posted by Wanderlust88 at 9:14 AM on August 30, 2010 [1 favorite]

Love and Hydrogen, by Jim Shepard.
posted by Mendl at 12:48 PM on August 30, 2010

George Saunders. And Sherman Alexie's war dances.
posted by custard heart at 5:11 PM on August 30, 2010

Oh, man. There are so many.

Escape Pod is a great science fiction short story podcast There are fun stories like The Trouble With Death Traps and How I Mounted Goldie, Saved My Partner Lori, and Sniffed Out The People’s Justice and sobering stories like Iron Bars and the Glass Jaw and Tideline. Similarly, their sister fantasy-themed podcast, Podcastle, has had a huge number of excellent stories, like The Cambist and Lord Iron, The Fiddler of Bayou Teche, The Nalendar, and When Shakko Did Not Lie.

But if I had to pick a favorite, it would have to be
Nine Sundays in a Row. If you listen to none of the other stories, listen to this one.
posted by JDHarper at 5:55 PM on August 30, 2010 [2 favorites]

CivilWarLand in Bad Decline, the first story in the collection of the same name, by George Saunders, is among the best I've read.
posted by jabberjaw at 4:36 PM on September 1, 2010

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