Fiction: Very short stories with an unreliable narrator?
April 2, 2013 12:31 PM   Subscribe

Does anyone know of any very short stories (1,500 words or fewer), preferably in the science fiction or fantasy genre, that are told through the eyes of an unreliable narrator?

I'm teaching the concept of writing through the eyes of an unreliable narrator to a group of 11-16 year olds in a few days, and I'm still hunting for a good reading to use. So far, the only stories I have are some of Poe's as well as The Yellow Wallpaper, which I'm sure they've read in school already. Any suggestions would be welcome!
posted by DeusExMegana to Writing & Language (21 answers total) 20 users marked this as a favorite
The first story in The King in Yellow is a pretty good example of this.
posted by the dief at 12:38 PM on April 2, 2013

Borges, "The Immortal"
posted by thelonius at 12:39 PM on April 2, 2013 [1 favorite]

The Secret Life of Walter Mitty?
posted by zizzle at 12:41 PM on April 2, 2013

Wikipedia has a few examples: Poe's The Cask of Amontillado, a couple of Chaucer's Canterbury Tales (Merchant's Tale, Wife of Bath), The Three Apples and The Seven Viziers from the Arabian Nights. The only one I can think of at the moment is the title story from David Foster Wallace's The Girl With Curious Hair.
posted by rabbitrabbit at 12:44 PM on April 2, 2013

Stephen King's short story Strawberry Spring, and probably some others that are escaping my memory right now.
posted by usonian at 12:52 PM on April 2, 2013

"Transition" by Iain Banks ticks two out of three boxes - unreliable narrator, and SF/fantasy (not originally published as an Iain "M." Banks book but definitely the right genre). But short it isn't. And suitable for 11 year old kids it definitely isn't. I wonder if the first chapter (the Prologue) might be sufficient for your purposes, though?
posted by RedOrGreen at 12:55 PM on April 2, 2013

Yeah, a couple of Poe stories come to mind. "The Tell-Tale Heart," "Berenice," and "The Black Cat" are the ones I'm thinking of.
posted by The Underpants Monster at 12:56 PM on April 2, 2013

George Saunders probably has some pieces that would work -- I'm on a phone, but if you search the New Yorker for his work you should be able to find something.
posted by DoubleLune at 1:01 PM on April 2, 2013

In a Grove is short and has seven unreliable narrators. Students like arguing about who's the most trustworthy and what various characters' motives might be for lying.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 1:02 PM on April 2, 2013 [1 favorite]

Born of Man and Woman by Richard Matheson.
posted by Marie Mon Dieu at 1:06 PM on April 2, 2013

Not sure if it fits your length requirements, but maybe "Kid Brother" by Isaac Asimov.
posted by snowmentality at 1:42 PM on April 2, 2013

For TV, I remember Jose Chung's From Outer Space X-Files episode as featuring an unreliable narrator.

TV Tropes also has a whole catalog of examples.
posted by chengjih at 1:54 PM on April 2, 2013

On the other hand, if you want to show them a film, there's Rashomon.

Which is fantastic, but has subtitles, so maybe not so much for 11-16 year-olds, unless they're into Japanese stuff. I was going to say Manga but they might feel cheated if you introduced it that way.
posted by glasseyes at 2:20 PM on April 2, 2013

Real Time by Lawrence Watt-Evans.
posted by notbuddha at 2:25 PM on April 2, 2013

I've used Donald Barthleme's "Game" in my intro to lit classes before. I'm not sure if the subject matter is too mature, though.
posted by bibliowench at 2:30 PM on April 2, 2013

Gene Wolfe is a SF/F author and first-person perspective is, like, his medium. He's written a ton of unreliable narrators. His stories tend to run long so I can't think of one that fits your criterion. But if you flip through his collection, "The Best Of Gene Wolfe," you might find something good. He is a master of first-person voice and I wish someone had introduced me to him when I was younger.
posted by grobstein at 3:08 PM on April 2, 2013 [1 favorite]

Coming in to recommend Gene Wolfe! He has lots of short stories that fit this bill. Try starting with Seven American Nights from The Island of Dr. Death.
posted by Potomac Avenue at 3:22 PM on April 2, 2013 [1 favorite]

I can't find the word count for it (it's 14 pages long in my paperback edition of her collection Fire Watch), but Connie Willis's short story A Letter from the Clearys is a terrific unreliable narrator SF short story. John Kessel has an analysis of the merits of the story and the use of the narrator here.
posted by creepygirl at 7:07 PM on April 2, 2013

Response by poster: Thanks for all the responses so far, guys! Please keep 'em coming! I probably should have emphasized more in my OP that any story I use really has to be 1,500 words or less. I have a really short window of time for a reading, and this isn't a daily class, so I can't give them anything longer, unfortunately. It's a shame; there are some great longer short stories in here!
posted by DeusExMegana at 8:35 PM on April 2, 2013

Best answer: My Book by Gene Wolfe (collected in Endangered Species) is short, not too complex (for Wolfe) and pretty much completely undermines itself.
posted by crocomancer at 4:21 AM on April 3, 2013 [1 favorite]

I feel like there ought to be a Ray Bradbury story that would work for you, because his Twilight-Zone approach to stories often gives a narrator whose perspective isn't what you'd automatically assume. But it's been a while since I've read a lot of his work so I'm having trouble nailing down the perfect title (good narrator example + good length). Still, flipping through a few of his anthologies for a short piece, might be a good place to start.
posted by aimedwander at 7:18 AM on April 3, 2013

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