Depressing Novels and Short Story Collections
January 6, 2007 12:59 PM   Subscribe

What are some great depressing, or I should say melancholic, 21st century novels/short story collections? The latest that I have ordered is E. Annie Proulx 'Close Range: Wyoming Stories,' but that is from the late 90s. I just cannot take the material that is being churned out in the 21st century. Most of it is pretty much the same. If it isn't formulaic mainstream work it turns out to be obscure and pointless POMO drivel. I've scoured the 20th century and found a ton of titles, but almost nothing from the last 7 years. The one recent gem I found is Cormac McCarthy's 'The Road'. Thanks in advance.
posted by Gnostic Novelist to Media & Arts (34 answers total) 18 users marked this as a favorite
Have you read the yearly O. Henry Prize Stories collections?
posted by neustile at 1:03 PM on January 6, 2007

Alice Munro. Andre Dubus.
posted by footnote at 1:20 PM on January 6, 2007

Cynthia Ozick's Heir to the Glimmering World comes to mind.
posted by The Straightener at 1:22 PM on January 6, 2007

Anne Marie MacDonald's Fall On Your Knees isn't quite 21st century (1997), but The Way The Crow Flies is the same sort of stuff. (I abandoned it, I'm afraid.)

On preview: Hmm, second Canadian in four answers.
posted by randomination at 1:30 PM on January 6, 2007

I think you're looking for George Saunders. Satirical and dark and perfectly in touch with our moment, I think. Start with CivilWarLand in Bad Decline and move on from there. He just recently won a MacArthur, btw.

Also, The Road is one of the most affecting things I've read in a long, long time. All the darkness and intensity of The Border Trilogy rendered down into a tight fable about the fragility of human goodness. McCarthy is bucking for a Nobel Prize, no doubt about it.
posted by felix betachat at 1:32 PM on January 6, 2007

If you've a taste for contemporary Irish literature, the Collected Stories of William Trevor certainly fits the "melancholic" bill. And in the "bang for buck" category it's hard to do much better.
posted by mykescipark at 1:41 PM on January 6, 2007

Kertész Imre's Kaddish for an Unborn Child was written in 1990 but only translated into English in 2004 and is very mournful and melancholic. It is kind of hard to follow, as it is more meditation than novel and employs a lot of seeming stream of consciousness.
posted by Falconetti at 1:43 PM on January 6, 2007

Another good one is Philippe Claudel's By a Slow River (English title), which was written in 2002 and translated into English in 2004. It is like a murder mystery where the solution is your own despair at life.
posted by Falconetti at 1:48 PM on January 6, 2007

That would be Imre Kertész.
posted by AwkwardPause at 2:12 PM on January 6, 2007 [1 favorite]

I accidentally discovered within the last week that there are quite a few melancholic/sad/depressing stories in the latest (2006) Best American Short Stories collection. I gave up on the book after reading 3 at random, because I was really hoping for something happier, but it might suit your mood. I'm sure I'll revisit it in a few months.
posted by vytae at 2:28 PM on January 6, 2007

Denis Johnson. Jesus' Son, my favorite, was in the 90s, but The Name of the World is from 2001 and also melancholic and great.

Adam Haslett's You are Not a Stranger Here is from 2003. Depressing short stories.

Middlesex is from 2002. It made me cry more than once.

Stephen Elliott's Happy Baby and My Girlfriend Comes to the City and Beats Me Up are both dark, from this century, and sparely told.

Also, Charles Baxter's The Feast of Love, David Schickler's Kissing in Manhattan and Sweet and Vicious.
posted by birdie birdington at 2:39 PM on January 6, 2007

The Sea, by John Banville. Man Booker Prize, 2005.
posted by wryly at 2:43 PM on January 6, 2007

Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell by Susanna Clarke.
Dark and beautiful.
posted by Methylviolet at 3:02 PM on January 6, 2007

Two recent novels: Gina Frangello's My Sister's Continent and Mary Gaitskill's Veronica (and though they fall outside of the last seven-years I'd really recommend her two short story collections Bad Behavior [which contains the short story the movie "Secretary" was based on] and Because They Wanted To.

Short Story collections: You should look into the husband-wife one-two punch of Julie Orringer's How to Breathe Underwater and Ryan Harty's Bring Me Your Saddest Arizona.
posted by jodic at 3:03 PM on January 6, 2007

Oh! The Last Samurai, which is probably the best book I've read ever, is from this century as well. And Heather O'Neill's Lullabies for Little Criminals is sad sad and has some of the most beautiful and poetic sentences in any book ever.
posted by birdie birdington at 3:16 PM on January 6, 2007

My Home is Far Away. Very sad, but not treacly.
posted by daisyace at 4:06 PM on January 6, 2007

(Oops, that's 20th century. Sorry.)
posted by daisyace at 4:09 PM on January 6, 2007

I would check out Richard Powers. I think Operation Wandering Soul (1993) is one of his best, and certainly his most melancholy book; it concerns a children's hospital in a poor LA neighborhood, and weaves in the Pied Piper, the Children's Crusade, and the author's childhood in Thailand. If that's too early, or too experimental, try the Time of Our Singing (2003).

I would also consider Atonement, by Ian McEwan (2001). It's beautiful and absolutely devastating.
posted by pombe at 5:02 PM on January 6, 2007

Dare I say it? One more for "The Road". I'm haltingly working my way through McCarthy's oeuvre and I found it to be absolutely on par with the others I've read so far. He's really remarkable.

For pure melancholy this century, I'd have to go with "The Lovely Bones" by Alice Sebold. I think it deserved every bit of positive press it received.

With regard to the Richard Powers recommendation, I'd go with "The Time of Our Singing". Plenty of melancholy, and 21st century to boot.
posted by hwestiii at 5:33 PM on January 6, 2007

Lorrie Moore, Birds of America
posted by Malla at 5:34 PM on January 6, 2007

Second George Saunders, especially Civilwarland in Bad Decline.
posted by deern the headlice at 6:06 PM on January 6, 2007

Also a collection by Thom Jones called Cold Snap. Neither mainstream nor pretentious, and certainly 'tough'-minded, if somewhat depressing. The soul of his writing style feels like it belongs to an older generation.
posted by deern the headlice at 6:10 PM on January 6, 2007

Graham Greene, The End of the Affair
posted by londongeezer at 6:41 PM on January 6, 2007

(Ack, sorry - Cold Snap was late-90s, not early 21st Century, but still better than plenty of more recent collections)
posted by deern the headlice at 10:00 PM on January 6, 2007


I haven't finished yet and haven't made up my mind about whether I like it or not yet, but it fits your categories
posted by edgeways at 12:44 AM on January 7, 2007

The Industry of Souls by Martin Booth
posted by TheCoug at 3:54 AM on January 7, 2007

Definitely Saturday, Atonement, Amsterdam, and Black Dogs by Ian McEwan, especially Amsterdam. A bit older, but still great, is All My Friends Are Going To Be Strangers by Larry McMurtry.
posted by The Michael The at 9:26 AM on January 7, 2007

Everyman by Philip Roth
posted by claudiadias at 11:27 AM on January 7, 2007

"The Children's Hospital," by Chris Adrian, is about a children's hospital (duh) that's the only place spared when the world is afflicted with another Flood. It's epic in scope, has tight motif-work, builds wonderfully round characters, contains many beautiful sentences, and is incredibly depressing. It's also extremely readable and compelling, and very recent.
posted by longtime_lurker at 12:50 PM on January 7, 2007

Rock Springs by Richard Ford. Fantastic, dark, realistic collection of short stories.
posted by owl at 4:47 PM on January 7, 2007

Jim Harrison has a new book out, Returning to Earth. I haven't read it, but I like Harrison's books. (He has a lot of three-novella books -- might start with the Legends of the Fall collection. Dalva & The Road Home are both good. But all these are from the 20th century.)

You might check out Barry Lopez, especially if you like McCarthy and Proulx. Some of the stories in Resistance are good. They have that ember-of-hope-burning-in-the-darkness atmosphere.

Have you tried Murakami? You might like some of the stories in After the Quake and also the novel The Wind Up Bird Chronicles. Both have some post-modern elements, but both are properly melancholy. In TWUBC, the guy is out of work at the beginning of the book, then his wife disappears, he wanders around in a fog kinda looking for her, and he eventually spends 30 days in a well.

I thought Richard Powers's latest, The Echo Maker, was alright. But The Time of Our Singing is supposedly better, so maybe start there.
posted by salvia at 8:45 PM on January 7, 2007

Civilwarland in Bad Decline, which was wonderful, reminded me of David Masiel's 2182 kHz (2002), which was also excellent - you really get a look into the cold, dark abyss.
posted by ikkyu2 at 11:10 PM on January 7, 2007

If you liked Proulx's "Close Range" you will find similarly depressing and exceedingly well-written stories in "The Stories of Breece D'J Pancake."
posted by WyoWhy at 5:40 AM on January 8, 2007

see if amy hemple is still writing
posted by henryis at 11:20 AM on January 8, 2007

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