Recommendations for enjoyable, easy-to-comprehend short stories
September 13, 2015 7:20 AM   Subscribe

I’m looking for recommendations for conventional short stories that are reasonably easy to read and have some literary merit. When I say “conventional”, I mean stories that have a distinct plot, with recognizable characters, and some kind of clear resolution at the end.

The types of stories that I don’t like are stream-of-consciousness, avant garde, description-heavy, laden with symbolism, hard to understand or interpret, or plain bizarre – the sorts of stories where you finish reading them, scratch your head, and say, “What the !$*# was all that about?”.

Here are some examples. I liked “Flowers for Algernon”, by Daniel Keyes, “Gift of the Magi”, by O. Henry, and “Dog Star”, by Arthur C. Clarke.

I hated “A Perfect Day for Bananafish”, by J. D. Salinger, “Araby” by James Joyce, and “The Lottery”, by Shirley Jackson. And I pretty much hate anything William Faulkner ever wrote.
posted by akk2014 to Media & Arts (18 answers total) 24 users marked this as a favorite
I cannot recommend "Interpreter of Maladies" by Jhumpa Lahiri enough. One of my favorite books of all time.

I also really love "Hateship, Friendship, Courtship, Loveship, Marriage" by Alice Munro.
posted by primate moon at 7:30 AM on September 13, 2015 [2 favorites]

Any of the short story collections by Kurt Vonnegut. Welcome to the Monkey House and Look at the Birdie are both excellent.
posted by alligatorman at 7:37 AM on September 13, 2015

Vincent Lam wrote a book called Bloodletting and Miraculous Cures that's actually a series of short stories about the same group of characters.

If you're okay with genre fiction with a literary bent, you might like to check out the Best American Mystery Stories anthology. Here's the 2014 one. There's always at least one Joyce Carol Oates short story that you should skip because you will hate it, but for the most part, they are mysteries, so they have plot and it resolves itself.

There's also a Best American Short Stories anthology series, but the percentage of things you hate is a lot higher in those.
posted by jacquilynne at 7:52 AM on September 13, 2015

The ones you name set a very high standard; they're famous for good reason. That said, I think the mystery anthologies are a very good idea. In that genre, Ruth Rendell tends to write real short stories, not just leftover bits from novels that have been polished up and published. )Not that those aren't fun to read; they just don't have as much structure.) Try a collection like The New Girl Friend.
posted by BibiRose at 7:56 AM on September 13, 2015

Any of the short story collections by Kurt Vonnegut. Welcome to the Monkey House and Look at the Birdie are both excellent.

In addition to these I'd also like to add Bagombo Snuff Box, a collection of some of Vonnegut's earliest published short stories.
posted by phunniemee at 8:11 AM on September 13, 2015

Bullet in the Brain by Tobias Wolff

Any of the stories in "Jenny and the Jaws of Life" by Jincy Willett
posted by whistle pig at 8:29 AM on September 13, 2015 [2 favorites]

Now I'm second-guessing my recommendation for "Bullet in the Brain" based on your criteria, as it's not a conventional plot and is sort of stream-of-consciousness; however, I still would recommend it in general as the ending is so breathtaking (I recommended it in the first place because of that perfect yet unexpected ending).
posted by whistle pig at 8:37 AM on September 13, 2015

I really enjoy W. Somerset Maugham's short stories. They tend to be pretty straightforward, well-written and interesting, with a strong focus on plot.
posted by pie_seven at 9:23 AM on September 13, 2015 [1 favorite]

Andre Dubus (senior) and Julie Orringer
posted by janey47 at 10:36 AM on September 13, 2015

Have you ever read anything by James Thurber? It's light stuff but it can be pretty deep on occasion. I'm sure you've heard of "The Secret Life of Walter Mitty".

He's also a famous cartoonist, and the collections I've seen usually contain a mix of short stories and cartoons, all of which are delightful.
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 12:32 PM on September 13, 2015

Roald Dahl! I'm especially partial to The Wonderful Story of Henry Sugar.
Also, seems like you would prefer novellas to short stories in general, since you are looking for something that is basically a short version of a conventional novel. Looking for novellas would weed out a lot of the experimental stuff you don't like.
posted by chickenmagazine at 4:38 PM on September 13, 2015

I'll second the recommendation for Roald Dahl and recommend a specific anthology: Tales of the Unexpected.
posted by holborne at 7:17 PM on September 13, 2015

Alice Munro's "Corrie" is one of my recent favourites; I think it meets your criteria.
posted by hurdy gurdy girl at 9:02 PM on September 13, 2015

My go-to short story writers are Guy de Maupassant and Leo Tolstoy. Tolstoy has a reputation for being long-winded, but his short stories are unexpectedly manageable. Try "God Sees the Truth, But Waits". Or "The Diamond Necklace" by GdM. Both should give you that "What the !$*# was all that about?" feeling you seek.
posted by kevinbelt at 9:46 AM on September 14, 2015

Response by poster: @kevinbelt: Thanks, but that's the feeling I'm seeking to avoid.
posted by akk2014 at 9:40 AM on September 15, 2015

Ah, my bad. I misread your post.
posted by kevinbelt at 10:06 AM on September 15, 2015

Response by poster: Thank you for all the wonderful suggestions. I'm not marking any answer as the best, since I have not read any of the stories (yet).
posted by akk2014 at 1:54 PM on September 17, 2015

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