Hello. My name is Joseph Grantham. I edit this website. I’m also an artist (see above). I asked some writers and friends to recommend some short stories to you, the readers of this website. All I asked was that they do this in 3-5 sentences. Other than that, there were no guidelines. I’ll start.
“Victor Blue” by Ann Beattie
This story is from Beattie’s first collection, Distortions, and it is written in the form of journal entries, composed by an elderly man who spends his days taking care of his ill wife (“Mrs. Edway,” as he refers to her). He cooks for her, takes care of her violets (one of them is named “Victor Blue”), reads novels to her, and whenever he and his wife have to make an important, or not so important, decision, they vote on it, each writing down their answer on a piece of paper and then holding it up for the other to see. Do they want a kitten or a puppy, do they want to hang up the embroidered Eiffel Tower picture which was a gift from Mrs. Edway’s cousin, should Mrs. Edway kill herself or continue living in pain? Beattie wrote this story when she was in her mid-twenties and you’d never know it.
Okay. Now, on to the main event.
“Good Old Neon” by David Foster Wallace
“Good Old Neon” is about a man who killed himself in 1991, told from the perspective of his post-death existence outside of time, written by a man who killed himself in 2008, published in 2004. It feels impossible to distill a ~40 page story that works on so many levels of thought and heart into 3-5 sentences, which is basically the premise of the story itself: that linear time and language are inherently limiting modes of describing the dimensionless flashes of perception that color each person’s interiority with significance, but until we die, we can only use one word after another to relate ourselves. Since his first successful lie at age 4, or arguably birth, the protagonist placed himself at the center of a “fraudulence paradox,” which meant that the more he tried to be something he wasn’t, the less he felt like the ideal image he performed, and “…the more of a fraud [he] felt like, the harder [he] tried to convey an impressive or likable image of [him]self so that other people wouldn’t find out what a hollow, fraudulent person [he] really [was].” What hits me so hard about “Good Old Neon” is the vagueness about its audience: the post-death protagonist addresses himself the moment before his death in a car, but he also makes lovingly dry meta-asides to another reader (from who, at least in the confines of a reader-author relationship, David Foster Wallace didn’t view himself as so apart), and I can’t help but feel witness to some similar shade of dialogue Wallace could’ve worked out with himself before his own death. The message of the story, to me, is not to succumb to our self-imposed limits; the message is in the beauty of trying, at least for a moment, to describe what it was like to be human.
– recommended by Megan Boyle, author of Liveblog
“A Man Came to Visit Us” by Brandon Hobson
Your question is so difficult to answer. I read and reread and am taken up by so many stories all of the time — both ancient and modern. But the story foremost in my mind is always the most recent one I have accepted for NOON. And at this minute, it is the unearthly stunner by Brandon Hobson — that is jammed with mystery and passion –“A Man Came to Visit Us” (due out March 2021).
– recommended by Diane Williams, founder of NOON and author of The Collected Stories of Diane Williams
“Recitatif” by Toni Morrison
I assign this every semester to my English 102 students, out of The Norton Introduction to Literature. Despite the fact that I read this twice a year, it gets me every time. This story is a good example of why fiction is a superior art form; it says more about big broad important topics, like race and class and friendship and memory, than any piece of nonfiction ever could. This statement will probably offend a nonfiction purist if they happen to read this, whoopsie.
– recommended by Juliet Escoria, author of Juliet the Maniac
“Wolf Dreams” by Ann Beattie
Lincoln Devine is the only black person in the whole book! It’s not even his real name, Ann! To make matters worse, all the wolves are imagined by a poet. Despite this, I don’t see how you could’ve done any better.
– recommended by Timothy Willis Sanders, author of Matt Meets Vik & Orange Juice and Other Stories
“Careful” by Raymond Carver
The story i find myself thinking about the most is the Raymond Carver one in which he – the narrator – is recently separated from his wife and living alone and trying to slow down his drinking by only drinking champagne. He also has a stopped up ear, in the story. And, i think, eats lunch meats and maybe donuts? And his estranged wife stops over for some reason, … to talk? maybe? and while she’s there, talking, he asks her to help him with his ear. And there’s an intimacy and a tenderness, as well as a distance, between them – the narrator and his estranged wife – that is relatable and a little heartbreaking and also somewhat sweet. I think it’s called ‘Careful.’ This story. I find myself thinking about it frequently. It just has so much humanity and vulnerability and empathy. And whenever i re-read it, i think, ah, yes, my old friend, Raymond Carver, still in this apartment, still with his hidden champagne bottles, still with the stopped up ear. I think – ah, my old friend.
– recommended by Elizabeth Ellen, author of Person/a and Fast Machine, and editor of Short Flight/Long Drive Books
“The Round Bar” by Wendy Brenner
Not only is “The Round Bar” my very favorite story by Wendy Brenner but it’s one of the very best short stories ever written that no one has ever heard of. Anyways, it starts like this: “I like animals and I like men.” The narrator is a young woman who was once called a savant—as a child she was sent to her grammar school’s Accelerated Program for the Specially Gifted in the Audio, Visual, and Kinetic Arts. But now she’s wasted all her potential, unemployed and drinking her days away at the local honky tonk, obsessing over it’s singer, a not-even-that-talented, fat and former Vietnam sharpshooter, who’s struggling to get anyone in Nashville to listen to his original songs. And that’s just the set up!!
– recommended by Ashleigh Bryant Phillips, author of Sleepovers
“1/3 1/3 1/3” by Richard Brautigan
It’s the Richard Brautigan story “1/3, 1/3, 1/3” about a man who lives in a shack and gets wrangled into a doomed ‘business opportunity’ in the arts all because he owns a typewriter. In the opening paragraph, the narrator explains it all: ‘It was all to be done in thirds. I was to get 1/3 for doing the typing, and she was to get 1/3 for doing the editing, and he was to get 1/3 for writing the novel.’ The story is in Revenge of the Lawn. Brautigan is just as funny as he is sad and vice versa, that’s what I’m always looking to read.
– recommended by Bud Smith, author of Teenager and Work