Need Short Story to Write About
January 28, 2012 10:12 AM   Subscribe

Need recommendations for a good literary short story (or two) on which to write a 1200-1500ish word paper.

I have to write this for my Introduction to Literature class. The assignment is flexible; we can choose any (literary) short story and examine it any way we want. We can also take two or three stories by the same or different authors and compare them any way we'd like to. I'm just having trouble choosing a story because I have so many choices, and he gave the constraint that we can't use anything we've discussed in class. (with possible exceptions for if we have something particularly interesting to write about that we never talked about) This is especially bad for me because I'm also in his AP literature class (I'm dual enrolled) and took Composition I and II with him last year so the list of things I've discussed in a class with him is somewhat long, though not suffocating. I'd really appreciate some suggestions for authors or specific stories you've enjoyed mulling over to help guide me. Thanks!

Here's some short stories we've discussed that I liked in particular:

A Rose for Emily by William Faulkner (I'd write about this if we hadn't talked about it already because of how ridiculously complex it was)
Hunters in the Snow by Tobias Wolff
The Things They Carried by Tim O'Brien
Welding With Children by Tim Gautreaux
Hills Like White Elephants by Ernest Hemingway

I also wrote papers for Brave New World and Slaughterhouse-Five (for AP literature we do one on a novel of our choice each quarter) this year and loved both books.

I'm fascinated by stories about war in particular because my dad was in Vietnam and it affected him a lot mentally.

Bonus points for an interesting novel to write about for my third paper that'll also help me on the AP exam. I'm looking at Catch-22 and The Turn of the Screw.
posted by Gymnopedist to Writing & Language (24 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
Occurance at Owl Creek Bridge by Ambrose Bierce is my favourite in that genre. Lots to pick up, especially forshadowing.
posted by guster4lovers at 10:19 AM on January 28, 2012

Raymond Carver. Anything by Raymond Carver. I promise.
posted by nevercalm at 10:23 AM on January 28, 2012 [3 favorites]

To Build A Fire by Jack London

Also, You might want to look into some John Updike.
posted by 4ster at 10:26 AM on January 28, 2012

Did you read the whole collection by Tim O'Brien or just the title story? Because that whole book is mindblowingly good, and if the prof is ok with it you could pick out another one.
posted by restless_nomad at 10:27 AM on January 28, 2012 [1 favorite]

Have you looked for more stories by the authors you mention in your question? All of them wrote many more stories in similar styles to the ones you list. For example, if you liked "A Rose for Emily," you could check out one of Faulkner's other stories, like "Dry September" (describes a lynch mob forming from several different points of view).
posted by Hypocrite_Lecteur at 10:30 AM on January 28, 2012

Shooting An Elephant by George Orwell
posted by aniola at 10:49 AM on January 28, 2012

"The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas" by Ursula K. Le Guin is always a good one.
posted by These Birds of a Feather at 10:52 AM on January 28, 2012 [1 favorite]

The Lottery by Shirley Jackson
posted by fearfulsymmetry at 11:05 AM on January 28, 2012 [1 favorite]

My favorite short story is Funes the Memorious by Borges - but he has a lot of great ones.
posted by Lutoslawski at 11:07 AM on January 28, 2012

Why not grab the Pulitzer prize-winning Stories of John Cheever and select a couple of 'em? Some of the most famous (and included in the anthology) are: The Swimmer, The Enormous Radio, The Country Husband and The Housebreaker of Shady Hill.
posted by BlahLaLa at 11:29 AM on January 28, 2012 [2 favorites]

Oh, and ideas for your bonus question: The Grapes of Wrath.
posted by BlahLaLa at 11:29 AM on January 28, 2012

If you liked Hemingway and wanted to read more, you really can't do any better than A Clean and Well Lighted Place or even The Killers.

If you wanted to try someone different but still from within the realm of 20th C. American establishment, then something like Cheever's "Five Forty Eight", Updike's "A&P", or any one of Carver's short stories ("Cathedral", "Fat", "Collectors", "Are These Actual Miles", "What We Talk About When We Talk About Love", "Where I'm Calling From" are some of my favourites.)

If you're looking for something more contemporary and 'different', I really enjoyed "Rumors About Me" from the awesomely titled collection Salmonella Men on Planet Porno (there's also a war-themed story called "Commuter Army" in the collection) or something by Etgar Keret.

Are you expected to do any additional readings of criticism or what-have-you of the subject stories, or is it strictly personal response/examination? While there's a bazillion times more critical material examining more established writers, your prof has likely read a bazillion more essays on them too. I don't think this is a good or bad thing, but more a personal preference between your wanting to provide your prof with an essay a bit more interesting to read or not stressing yourself out not being able to validate what you're wanting to write about.

[note: I was a bad student, and a long time ago]
posted by dismitree at 12:14 PM on January 28, 2012 [1 favorite]

When you mentioned your interest in war, particularly Vietnam, I immediately thought of "The Ambush" by Donna Tartt and "The Red Convertible" by Louise Erdrich. The second is often anthologized and frequently taught in first-year lit classes, but on the off chance you haven't studied it, it is a rich and beautifully written story that I think you would get a lot out of.

And yeah, you can't go wrong with Raymond Carver. I'd suggest you start with "So Much Water, So Close to Home," "Neighbours," and "Why Don't You Dance?".

Suggestions for dystopian novels based on what you've previously enjoyed:

The Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood
The Chrysalids by John Wyndham
We by Yevgeny Zamyatin
A Clockwork Orange by Anthony Burgess
Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro

And although I would imagine you've probably already read Orwell's 1984, well, if you haven't, it's a great companion to Brave New World or any of the novels I've mentioned above.
posted by hurdy gurdy girl at 12:49 PM on January 28, 2012 [1 favorite]

I nominate Hemingway's Big Two-Hearted River, his most famous Nick Adams story.

I know we're not supposed to do your homework for you, but since this is true of everything Hemingway wrote I don't feel too guilty: it's about the war!
posted by Snarl Furillo at 2:50 PM on January 28, 2012

"The Yellow Wallpaper" by Charlotte Perkins Gilman
"Reunion" John Cheever
"Popular Mechanics" or "Cathedral" Raymond Carver
"Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been" Joyce Carol Oates
"The Liar" Tobias Wolff

I recommend looking through this book; there are a lot of classic stories in there. American Short Story Masterpieces. It's only $3 used!
posted by book 'em dano at 3:19 PM on January 28, 2012 [1 favorite]

Amy Hempel.

Especially famous (and wonderful) are "In The Cemetery Where Al Jolson is Buried" and "The Harvest".
posted by bibliogrrl at 4:05 PM on January 28, 2012

"Music" by Nabokov.
Flannery O'Connor, "A Good Man is Hard to Find."
"The Dead" by James Joyce.
The Things They Carried is fucking amazing. And the styles vary between stories. Maybe "How to tell a true war story"?
Tobias Wolff is good, maybe "Bullet in the Brain"?

You could also branch out and write about a Borges story (be careful, you might go mad).
posted by ke rose ne at 4:10 PM on January 28, 2012 [1 favorite]

"The Gospel According to Mark"

A short story by none other than the great and fascinating Argentine writer, Jorge Luis Borges.

Borges was well-versed in great European and American literature, including Poe, Stevenson, Kipling, Shaw, Chesterton, Whitman, Emerson, and Twain.
posted by Kruger5 at 4:16 PM on January 28, 2012

There are deep stories that may be beyond you at this point, such as Bartleby, the Scrivener. How about The Old Man and the Sea.

As an English major, I advise you as strongly as possible not to go to Cliff's Notes or a pre-written downloadable For "Reference" Only paper. Read the story several times and give your own ideas. Otherwise your only cheating yourself out of learning how to write a paper. And by the way, any teacher will be able to tell the difference within a few words.
posted by KRS at 4:17 PM on January 28, 2012

Actually, you know what might be an interesting one for you -- that is, for a student who's short stories about war, and who's father has had experience at war? Benjamin Percy's Refresh, Refresh.

It's about a couple young men who are left to deal with their absent fathers, as the Iraq war has emptied their military hometown. The kids fight. They strain for (and dread) news from the front. And they try to cope with the legacies that they think their fathers have left behind.

It's a tense, terse story that you might like. It might let you get at some of the themes you enjoy from an entirely new angle. And it has the bonus of not being the same old canonical short story that everyone has already analyzed to death; the shock of the new might be an interesting jolt for you and your reader.
posted by .kobayashi. at 4:23 PM on January 28, 2012

I don't know how much time you have to search for short stories, and I guess I'm not even sure if his stuff fits the "literary" requirement, but J.G. Ballard has a pretty amazing array of stories spanning genres and styles. Even if not for this assignment, maybe for another later on, or just for pleasure.
posted by Ducks or monkeys at 6:04 PM on January 28, 2012

I just suggested Richard Ford's "Rock Springs" in another thread, but that's another one I have a hunch you might enjoy.
posted by tangerine at 11:18 PM on January 28, 2012

Bartleby the Scrivener by Herman Melville.
posted by Intaglio a go-go at 11:30 PM on January 28, 2012

Thanks for all the great suggestions! I'll read several of them and use whichever I feel I can extract the most meaning from for my paper. It's a shame I only need one, but I'll probably end up reading most of these suggestions for pleasure.
posted by Gymnopedist at 3:47 PM on January 29, 2012

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