A great short story offers a quick and powerful reprieve from reality. If escape is what you crave, then check out the stellar new collections featured below. Written by three of today’s top literary fiction authors, these stories will sweep you away.
“People pretend the world is ordinary every day,” a character says in Samantha Hunt’s hypnotic collection, The Dark Dark. But Hunt knows better; her narrative worlds are twilit realms suffused with dark possibility, in which jarring connections and overpowering transformations prove the rule. In a taut, “Twin Peaks”-ish story called “The Yellow,” a dead dog is resurrected when the man who killed him shares a moment of unexpected intimacy with its owner. In the bleakly humorous “Love Machine,” an FBI agent develops romantic feelings for a robot. The narrator of “Beast”—a woman grappling with the routines of life and marriage—turns into a deer at night. That’s right—a deer. Equipped with a voice that’s delicately poetic yet quietly ominous, Hunt can make the impossible seem plausible. She’s in a class by herself.
In his radiant new book, The Mountain, Paul Yoon moves with ease through eras and locales, from New York State in the early 1900s to modern-day Russia. Despite the disparate settings, the six stories in this collection feel of a piece, as each features displaced characters who are adrift in the world. The solitary narrator of “A Willow and the Moon” tries in the decades after World War II to come to terms with his family’s history. “Still a Fire” follows a drug-addicted nurse as she ekes out a meager existence in France during the late 1940s. Yoon uses precise, measured prose to create atmospheric narratives that lack neat resolutions. The Mountain’s overall mood is one of wistfulness—a feeling that stays with the reader after the final page has been turned.
Sarah Hall’s Madame Zero is a bold set of stories that speak to the times. Through these perceptive, sharply realized narratives, Hall explores gender roles, female sexuality and the power dynamics inherent in romantic relationships, demonstrating along the way a remarkable ability to shift between voices and forms. A three-page thriller about a deadly epidemic, “One in Four” is a letter written by a drug-industry insider to his wife. “Case Study 2” is just that—an objective, nearly clinical account of a troubled foster child who was brought up in a commune. In “Evie,” the title character’s aggressively erotic actions bewilder her husband and signal the approach of tragedy. Humming with tension and enlivened by Hall’s nimble prose, these of-the-moment stories form a collection that’s destined to endure.