short story masters
June 17, 2011 11:59 AM   Subscribe

Who are the current masters of the short story form?

Looking for a contemporary John Cheever. Not picky about genre, but the prose has to be great. Already familiar with Ted Chiang, George Saunders, Kelly Link, Alice Munro, and love them all. Who else should I be reading? Who is writing the best short stories today?
posted by AceRock to Writing & Language (37 answers total) 58 users marked this as a favorite
Of the things of his I've read, I've really enjoyed TC Boyle.
posted by phunniemee at 12:03 PM on June 17, 2011 [1 favorite]

China Mieville's Looking For Jake was fairly mindblowing. I also picked up a Caitlin Kiernan collection that was brilliant for what it was (Lovecraftian and/or psychological horror.) I also rather liked Charlie Stross's Wireless. (Linking my Goodreads reviews here if you want more in-depth opinions.)

I assume you've already tried Stephen King? If not, definitely pick up one of his collections, even if you don't care for his novels. I think it's his strongest form.

I adore Gardner Dozois's Year's Best Science Fiction collection without reservation - if you like moderate-to-hard scifi, that is a fabulous way to get a survey of the strongest voices in the genre for any given year. Datlow and Link's Year's Best Fantasy and Horror is about equally strong.
posted by restless_nomad at 12:11 PM on June 17, 2011

Denis Johnson and Lorrie Moore are two of my favorites. Jesus' Son and Birds of America are, in my opinion, the best you can get in short stories.
posted by amodelcitizen at 12:15 PM on June 17, 2011

Kelly Link is something special. And on preview, seconding Lorrie Moore.
posted by thebrokedown at 12:16 PM on June 17, 2011 [5 favorites]

I loved Everything Ravaged, Everything Burned by Wells Tower, and Short Stories by Tobias Wolff. I love short stories and usually am not blown away by fiction, but those two got me.
posted by shortyJBot at 12:18 PM on June 17, 2011

For science fiction, it's Ted Chiang.
posted by Slap*Happy at 12:20 PM on June 17, 2011 [1 favorite]

Steven Millhauser is one of my favorites. You might start with an older collection of his - for example, The Barnum Museum contains the fantastic "Klassik Komix #1". He does have a new collection out later this summer (August, I think) called We Others, which will contain both new & older stories.
posted by dryad at 12:21 PM on June 17, 2011

I'd like to nominate Jayne Anne Phillips.
posted by carmicha at 12:24 PM on June 17, 2011

Tim Gautreaux.
posted by headnsouth at 12:28 PM on June 17, 2011

A few collections I've loved recently:
Both Ways Is the Only Way I Want It - Maile Meloy
Birds of America - Lorrie Moore
posted by susanvance at 12:31 PM on June 17, 2011

David Means
posted by mattbucher at 12:37 PM on June 17, 2011

Lydia Davis, Padgett Powell, Joy Williams
posted by neroli at 12:37 PM on June 17, 2011

I have been reading a lot of short fiction lately, and somehow who has been blowing me away is Charles Baxter. The stories all seem to start off as slow character studies but each and every one grabs you and knocks you over. I recommend his collection, Gryphon.

I also agree with Everything Ravaged, Everything Burned.
posted by JonesVery at 12:43 PM on June 17, 2011 [2 favorites]

Jhumpa Lahiri
posted by wayward vagabond at 12:44 PM on June 17, 2011 [1 favorite]

Do you like horror? My current favorites are Laird Barron and Thomas Ligotti.
posted by Renoroc at 12:54 PM on June 17, 2011 [1 favorite]

Seconding Joy Williams and Charles Baxter. Haruki Murakami's short stories are creepy and wonderful. Mary Gaitskill's are too, in a totally different way. I also really liked some of the stories in Bonnie Jo Campbell's American Salvage.
posted by indognito at 1:03 PM on June 17, 2011

Amy Hempel
Dan Chaon
Will Self

I second the recommendation for Thomas Ligotti, even if you don't already like horror. He's like a combination of Borges, Lovecraft, and Bruno Schulz. This is the second time I've recommended this book in as many days, but Poe's Children is a splendiferous horror anthology that has an explicit tilt towards literary horror.
posted by Sticherbeast at 1:08 PM on June 17, 2011

For science fiction, it's Ted Chiang.

YES. I grew up reading and loving short sci-fi, and none of it was ever as impressive as a Ted Chiang story. You can read all his existing work in the post I did on him last year; the first story link, "Tower of Babylon," has since expired, but there's another version here.
posted by Rhaomi at 1:13 PM on June 17, 2011 [2 favorites]

Seconding Wells Tower.

William Trevor is often cited as the best.

Richard Ford is also very modern Cheever. Rock Springs is stripped down. Multitude of Sins is thicker and "older," and exquisitely crafted. (Come to think of it, there's actually a great a New Yorker podcast of him reading an old Cheever story. Here it is.)
posted by vecchio at 1:48 PM on June 17, 2011

More names: Nathan Englander and Charles D'Ambrosio.

I wish I knew more foreign names. Anybody have any?
posted by vecchio at 1:51 PM on June 17, 2011

Alice Munro. She provokes existential dread.
posted by KokuRyu at 1:59 PM on June 17, 2011

Have to throw in for Wells Tower yet again, but also need to give props to T. Coraghessan Boyle. And yeah, Stephen King too!
posted by mcgordonliddy at 2:15 PM on June 17, 2011 [1 favorite]

I know he's dead, but you have to read Bernard Malamud.
posted by Mr.Know-it-some at 2:17 PM on June 17, 2011

@vecchio, some writers from non-American/English/Canadian backgrounds: Chinua Achebe (Girls at War), Chimananda Nqozi Adichie (The Thing Around Your Neck), Uwem Akpan (Say You Are One of Them), Alexsander Hemon (The Question of Bruno), Colum McCann (Fishing the Sloe Black River and Everything in This Country Must), Yvonne Owuor (“Weight of Whispers”), EC Osondu (“Waiting”) , Flora Nwapa (“A Certain Death”)

Other: Chekov, Hemingway, nthing Munro and Trevor, Fitzgerald ("Rich Boys" and "Diamond as Big as the Ritz"), Italo Calvino, Evan Connell, Joyce (Dubliners), Bobbie Ann Mason, Katherine Ann Porter, Ray Carver, nthing Cheever, Mary Gaitskill, JD Salinger, Paul Bowles, Henry James, Ellen Gilchrist.

And me. You should read me :)
posted by mrfuga0 at 4:07 PM on June 17, 2011 [1 favorite]

Thanks mrfugaO! I'll google around. For the record, I'd be interested less in immigration stories than actual foreign work.
posted by vecchio at 4:15 PM on June 17, 2011

Lots of those are foreign works -- (almost all, I think, with the exception of McCann's first book (Fishing the ...), some (but not all) of Adichie's stories and maybe Hemon's The Question of Bruno). I teach these stories in my world lit classes and lots of them focus on war, conflict and ethnic issues within the author's home countries. PM me if you want to talk world lit more.
posted by mrfuga0 at 4:57 PM on June 17, 2011

I'd like to recommend Aimee Bender, who is awesome and abstract and her writing is delicious. You can hear her short Fruit and Words here. I recommend "The Girl in the Flammable Skirt", a great collection of shorts.
posted by ajarbaday at 7:23 PM on June 17, 2011

Harlan Ellison, Larry Brown, Barry Hannah, Lee K. Abbott and George Singleton. 2nding Padget Powell --and if you like him, read Donald Barthelme--and nthing Wells Tower.
posted by Francis7 at 12:13 PM on June 18, 2011

OP: Already familiar with Ted Chiang, George Saunders, Kelly Link, Alice Munro, and love them all.

You Mefites are a peculiar lot sometimes. In any case:

I've heard a lot of good things about Dan Chaon (pronounced 'shawn'); seconding Denis Johnson and the Slipstream anthology Feeling Strangely Fine is chock full of amazing stories by writers like Saunders and Chiang (heck, it even includes them). There's a New Yorker collection called 20 Under 40 that you might want to take a look at. And Chabon, if you're looking for someone with a reputation who is actually a really, very good writer.
posted by dubusadus at 10:59 PM on June 18, 2011

Oh! And oh man, I almost forgot that David Foster Wallace guy. Here's a random blog with "Forever Overhead", which has got to be one of my most favorite short stories of all time.
posted by dubusadus at 11:02 PM on June 18, 2011

Sorry for the triple post but I've got a friend who'd argue that my 'heretical namesake' is a master of the short story form too: Andre Dubus.
posted by dubusadus at 11:04 PM on June 18, 2011

Alice Munro is one of my favorites. If you want the depth of a novel in 13 pages, read Munro.
posted by Kitty Stardust at 6:30 AM on June 19, 2011

Whoops. Disregard.
posted by Kitty Stardust at 6:33 AM on June 19, 2011

Er Feeling Very Strange, not that Semisonic song (I think)?
posted by dubusadus at 6:44 AM on June 19, 2011

Julie Orringer's "How To Breathe Underwater" was great.
posted by backwards guitar at 8:18 AM on June 20, 2011

Etgar Keret
posted by mike_bling at 9:31 PM on June 21, 2011

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