While I love reading short books and cram them in
Tragedy plus time apparently equals literature. As far as years go, 2017-2018 has been an intense one. These authors have responded with wit, creativity, and some impressively bizarre concepts that comment upon both the new and timeless topography of our psychological landscapes. Here are 5 acclaimed short story collections as weird, wild, and jarringly human as the past year has been.
The winner of the Lambda Literary Award for Lesbian Fiction, Carmen Maria Machado‘s Her Body and Other Parties is “sexy, queer, and caustic.” Swinging wildly upon the axis of brutality and sentimentality, Machado’s work is a real genre-bender, less wading into the territory of magical realism and more stomping headstrong through it. In Machado’s striking collection, there are many inventive cultural references, including a supernatural interpretation of Law and Order: SVU and a literary reimagining of the infamous girl with the green ribbon story. But Machado’s work also delves deeply into the human (and specifically female) psyche, her stories always as inventive as they are visceral.
A timely commentary on social media, art, and interpersonal relationships, this multimedia collection from some of the most famous Instagram poets (including Nikita Gill and Trista Mateer) insightfully tackles both the isolation and accessibility that the Internet can provide. The collection maintains its commitment to accessibility by incorporating the work of established writers (like Amanda Lovelace, author of The Princess Saves Herself in This One) with the work of up-and-coming contributors (like Sara Bond). Even the creation of [Dis]connected follows an inventive format: each writer contributed three poems and then assigned poems to their fellow writers. Each contributor then wrote a short story based on one of their assigned poems. The result? A vivid and unique exploration of love and loneliness.
2016 Man Booker Prize nominee Ottessa Moshfegh has done it again… and again and again. Released in between her Booker-nominated novel Eileen and her phantasmagorical 2018 bestseller My Year of Rest and Relaxation, Moshfegh’s short story collection Homesick for Another World is a twisted standout. A master of the grotesque and delightful, Moshfegh finds tenderness in the dire landscape of her subject matter: always the fringes of society. To read her work is to “touch a slightly electrified fence.” Featuring vomit, unfortunate neck tattoos, and thrice-daily Burger King meals, Homesick for Another World is as stunning as it is strange.
A favorite author of Barack Obama, Guggenheim fellow Lauren Groff blends domesticity and wildness in Florida, her recent short story collection that inhabits “an eden of dangerous things.” A 2018 Book Award Finalist, Florida depicts a place that is less a physical location and more a mood—sometimes a very dark one. Exploring the geographic and psychological landscape of Florida across different towns and even centuries, Florida explores “the moments and decisions and connections behind human pleasure and pain, hope and despair, love and fury—the moments that make us alive.” Beautifully weird and occasionally alarming, Groff’s work is a smash hit for the year.
5. SOME TRICK
The eccentric genius archetype—the exaggerated trope of a person who would just as likely disassemble their own household appliances for fun as write a novel—has met its match in Helen DeWitt. A mathematician and linguist (by the way, we’re talking fourteen languages), DeWitt’s hit debut, The Last Samurai, is only one of three works she’s published in the last twenty years, thanks to her distaste for the publishing industry. (Her second novel, Lightning Rods, is a brilliant, weird, and brilliantly weird satire on American capitalism.) Her third work, collection Some Trick, uses the “iron logic of a crazy person” to chip at the barrier between the private intellectual world of the individual and the social machinery of capitalism.