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All Short Stories Coverage

Afterlives by Abdulrazak Gurnah

The engrossing 10th novel from Nobel laureate Gurnah is filled with compassion and historical insight.

Afterlives book cover

All This Could Be Different by Sarah Thankam Mathews

Bitingly funny and sweetly earnest, Mathews’ debut is one of those rare novels that feels just like life.

All This Could Be Different

The Book of Goose by Yiyun Li

Not since Elena Ferrante’s My Brilliant Friend has a novel so deftly probed the magical and sometimes destructive friendships that can occur between two girls.

The Book of Goose

Calling for a Blanket Dance by Oscar Hokeah

When your heritage and ancestry are the reasons for your oppression, to whom can you turn in order to survive, but to family? Hokeah’s exceptional debut novel follows a Native American man’s life through the many leaves of his family tree.

Calling for a Blanket Dance

The Candy House by Jennifer Egan

Egan’s empathetic interest in human behavior is what drives The Candy House, making her companion novel to A Visit From the Goon Squad more than a literary experiment.

The Candy House

The Consequences by Manuel Muñoz

In this story collection, Muñoz forges a new Latinx narrative, wherein all aspects of Latinx life are displayed with richness and complexity.

Book jacket image for The Consequences by Manuel Munoz

Either/Or by Elif Batuman

Selin, the hero of Batuman’s The Idiot, returns with a voice that is more mature, reflective and droll.

Either Or book jacket

The Furrows by Namwali Serpell

Serpell’s award-winning debut novel, The Old Drift, was a genre-defying epic about three generations of Zambian families, and her purposely disconcerting follow-up will reinforce readers’ appreciation of her daring experimentation and keen talent.

Book jacket image for The Furrows by Namwali Serpell

How It Went by Wendell Berry

Taken together, the 13 stories in Berry’s How It Went create a tale that gently unwinds and doubles back on itself, not so much like a river but more like a flowering vine.

Book jacket image for How It Went by Wendell Berry

If I Survive You by Jonathan Escoffery

Escoffery’s connected stories offer an imaginative, fresh take on being a man and nonwhite immigrant in America.

If I Survive You book jacket

Lessons by Ian McEwan

This scathing, unsettling novel posits that knaves and heroes come in all guises.

Lessons cover

Lessons in Chemistry by Bonnie Garmus

Garmus’ devastating and funny debut novel blows the lid off simplistic myths about the 1950s.

Lessons in Chemistry book cover

Natural History by Andrea Barrett

The stories in Barrett’s dazzling collection demonstrate that while history distills events, fiction can bring messy humanity to life.

Natural History book cover

Our Missing Hearts by Celeste Ng

Ng is undoubtedly at the top of her game as she portrays an American society overcome by fear.

Our Missing Hearts book cover

The Rabbit Hutch by Tess Gunty

Despite its doomed Midwestern setting, Gunty’s debut novel makes storytelling seem like the most fun a person can have.

The Rabbit Hutch book jacket

Tomorrow, and Tomorrow, and Tomorrow by Gabrielle Zevin

It’s impossible to predict how, exactly, you’ll fall in love with this novel, but it’s an eventuality you can’t escape.

Tomorrow and Tomorrow and Tomorrow book cover

Trust by Hernan Diaz

Diaz’s second novel is a beautifully composed masterpiece that examines the insidious disparities between rich and poor, truth and fiction.

Trust book cover

Young Mungo by Douglas Stuart

Stuart’s follow-up to Shuggie Bain is a marvelous feat of storytelling, a mix of tender emotion and grisly violence.

Young Mungo book cover

Discover more of BookPage’s Best Books of 2022.

The year’s best fiction included a remarkable number of groundbreaking story collections—some deeply interconnected like Oscar Hokeah’s and Jonathan Escoffery’s, others bound mostly by theme and setting, such as Manuel Muñoz’s. We also reveled in several major releases from well-established authors, including Celeste Ng, Ian McEwan, Yiyun Li and Gabrielle Zevin.

Sophomore novels from Hernan Diaz, Namwali Serpell, Douglas Stuart and Elif Batuman surpassed the high bars of their debuts, and first-timers Tess Gunty, Sarah Thankam Mathews and Bonnie Garmus made a hell of a splash.

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The nine short stories in George Saunders’ Liberation Day (7 hours) prowl a spectrum of dystopian premises and fall into two categories: tales about families, co-workers and neighbors navigating their relationships amid troubling current events; and stories about future humans who are reprogrammed as automatons (with the robotic voices to match) under other people’s command.

In these disorienting worlds, downtrodden people who have become petty and grotesque find not revenge but poetic justice. After writing an essay that inspires a crime, the titular mother of “Mom of Bold Action” runs through a list of good deeds she would be likely to do, such as step into slush on someone else’s behalf. In “Ghoul,” an employee at an underground Hell-themed amusement park realizes that he’s in love and ready to die for his beloved. 

And yet, understated goodness shines through, and we witness victories both quotidian and experimental. Stories are narrated by Saunders and an all-star cast of comedians and actors: Tina Fey, Stephen Root, Michael McKean, Edi Patterson, Jenny Slate, Jack McBrayer and Melora Hardin. Saunders’ biting, clipped writing style, paired with these narrators’ parodying voices, results in a dark comedy triumph with a satirical yet redemptive twist.

Read our starred review of the print edition of Liberation Day.

George Saunders’ short story collection, narrated by an all-star cast of comedians and actors, is a dark comedy triumph with a satirical yet redemptive twist.
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The folks in How It Went, whom Wendell Berry writes about so beautifully, may remind readers of hobbits. They are neither small nor hairy footed, but they are kind and hardworking, and their Shire, the land around Port William, Kentucky, is part of them and they are part of the land. They have names like Jayber Crow, Fatty Moneyworth and Art and Mart Rowanberry. There’s even a couple of ne’er-do-wells called Dingus and Les, but they’re more out of a Paul Henning sitcom than J.R.R. Tolkien’s legendarium.

Berry’s book is divided into 13 lovingly written chapters. Some are short stories that have previously appeared in such publications as The Sewanee Review, while others are more like vignettes. Together, they create a tale that gently unwinds and doubles back on itself, not so much like a river but more like a flowering vine. 

The protagonist and sometimes narrator is Andy Catlett. Though we learn that he’s looking back on a long life, the book begins on the day World War II ends, when he has just turned 11. Over the course of the book, we see him as a teenager, then an old man, then a boy again and then a young man. 

Berry’s prose—in How It Went and just about everything else he’s written over his long career—is imbued with compassion. People have their dark sides. Men drink too much or harbor long resentments. Some people, like Andy’s grandma, may be unhappy, but discord is never dwelled upon. Even the loss of Andy’s hand in a harvesting machine is handled with Berry’s customary sensitivity: Another writer might’ve cast this incident as gruesome, but Berry focuses less on the accident than on how it affects Andy’s family and his self-image, which is bound up in his ability to work.

For the folks in Port William, work is everything, whether it’s making hay, handling a team of mules or building a barbed wire fence. Work is not only noble and necessary but also beautiful. Berry shares Tolkien’s disdain for industries that despoil the earth. In a hilarious scene, somebody dares to drive a motorized tractor through Andy’s grandfather’s property, and the old man nearly attacks it with his cane.

A book full of such gentleness, wisdom and humility seems preposterous in this day and age. It’s also something of a miracle. We are lucky, in such times, to still have a writer like Wendell Berry.

Taken together, the 13 chapters in Wendell Berry’s How It Went create a tale that gently unwinds and doubles back on itself, not so much like a river but more like a flowering vine.
Review by

Latinx writers and other artists of color have proven and continue to prove that race is not just a means of adding verisimilitude to a work but rather a vital part of any story told within our racialized society. Since his debut collection, Zigzagger, was published in 2003, Manuel Muñoz’s work has been recognized as prime proof of this fact, captivating and moving readers with tales of Latinx tribulation and triumph. In The Consequences, Muñoz adds even more depth and dimension to his writing, delivering a collection of stories that probe deep into the heart of Latinx experiences.

Muñoz sets his stories in 1980s California, seeking contemporary truths through the past and reflecting on where the Latinx community has been and where it’s going. His main concern is love—how we are able to connect with, tolerate and help one another in a world that seeks to alienate us from our communities and ourselves.

In the opening story, “Anyone Can Do It,” Delfina, a headstrong mother whose husband has gone missing with other immigrant workers, ponders the risks of trusting her new neighbors. When she is betrayed, however, she doesn’t shut herself off from her community but rather learns how to create a new identity for herself and her son out of the struggle they must endure. Muñoz never lets his characters off easy, and in the process, he problematizes and expands upon centuries-old archetypes.

Throughout the collection, Muñoz’s use of quotation marks has deep significance. In the second story, “The Happiest Girl in the Whole USA,” the only quotation marks appear around a sentence spoken in English, as if all of the Spanish (translated by the author into English) is not said aloud but rather communicated nonverbally. Food, on the other hand, appears frequently throughout the book, not just as a cultural signifier but also to show the impossibility of affection. In the same story, a woman offers the protagonist her cold tacos, trying to gain her trust while on their perilous journey to retrieve their partners from deportation. In these ways, Muñoz shows that the two things Latinx culture is most known for (language and cuisine) are far more complicated than they appear to white readers. Through such textual and symbolic details, Muñoz forges a new Latinx narrative, wherein all aspects of Latinx life are displayed with richness and complexity.

Muñoz brings the reader into a Latinx world rife with meaning, showing what some of us have known all along.

Through his story collection, Manuel Muñoz forges a new Latinx narrative, wherein all aspects of Latinx life are displayed with richness and complexity.
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Light Skin Gone to Waste, Toni Ann Johnson’s sharply observed linked story collection, follows the lives of psychologist Phil Arrington, his second wife, Velma, and their young daughter, Maddie, as they move from the Bronx to suburban Monroe, New York, in the early 1960s. Educated, sophisticated and striving for something different, the Arringtons are also Black and thus do not receive a warm welcome from their new white neighbors.

As the Arringtons settle in, Phil starts his own practice and Velma opens an antique store in a neighboring town. They join the country club where Phil can play tennis. Though Velma struggles to make friends, it’s Maddie who bears the brunt of the family’s social isolation. She’s one of the only Black children in the neighborhood and at school. In the stories “Claiming Tobias” and “Better,” she endures daily microaggressions regarding her skin color, hair and, as she gets older, body.

In the terrifying “Lucky,” the family travels to West Africa, where Maddie’s parents, eager to experience the nightlife in Dakar, Senegal, leave their young daughter in an unsafe situation with a male babysitter. As Maddie grows up, her father’s infidelities become bolder and her mother’s moods more inconstant, leaving both parents infuriatingly incapable of noticing their daughter’s misery. “The Way We Fell Out of Touch” and “Wings Made of Rocks” offer insights into the adults’ behavior without exonerating them. By the penultimate story, “Make a Space,” readers will be rooting for the teenage Maddie to find a way out of her childhood home.

If Maddie is traumatized by the racism she experiences in small-town New York, she is equally hurt by her parents’ inability to protect her or even, at times, to fully see her. Johnson’s deft handling of generational trauma, colorism and class—along with just the right amount of 1960s and ’70s cultural touchstones, from Tab soda to the Stillman diet to Barry Manilow—makes Light Skin Gone to Waste an engrossing, even groundbreaking read.

Toni Ann Johnson’s deft handling of generational trauma, colorism and class makes Light Skin Gone to Waste an engrossing, even groundbreaking read.

In his 2021 book, A Swim in a Pond in the Rain, George Saunders turned to Russian literary giants like Anton Chekhov and Leo Tolstoy to provide the source material for a stimulating master class on the craft of the short story. With Liberation Day, Saunders offers up nine of his own inimitable stories, each serving to enhance his status as a contemporary master of the form. It’s his fifth collection, featuring four new stories and five previously published in The New Yorker.

Saunders has a fondness for challenging readers by dropping them into an alien environment and then patiently revealing details that bring a hazy picture into sharp focus, gradually making it all feel uncomfortably familiar. That’s true of the novella-length title story, in which a group of characters, led by the narrator, Jeremy, is programmed to deliver reenactments of historical events—in this case a graphic rendering of Custer’s “last stand” at the Battle of the Little Bighorn. In “Ghoul,” another unfortunate coterie serves as actors in an underground amusement park, slowly discovering, to their horror, the truth of their plight. And in “Elliot Spencer,” the already damaged titular character finds himself manipulated by an unscrupulous group of political activists.

Not all of Saunders’ stories qualify as material for an episode of “The Twilight Zone.” “A Thing at Work” is a nightmarish version of “The Office,” shifting seamlessly among the perspectives of four characters in a chess game of escalating retribution, while “Mother’s Day” explores the bitterness that remains between two aging women who once loved the same man. “Love Letter” is a moving and at times chilling letter, written by a grandfather to grandson, that serves as both an apologia and a warning. The letter describes a turbulent political era uncomfortably similar to our own, when the grandfather and his wife watched as the TV “blared this litany of things that had never happened, that we could never have imagined happening,” all the while assuming “that those things could and would soon be undone and that all would return to normal.” 

The volume concludes with the small gem “My House,” a haunting tribute to the persistence of desire and human folly, whose seven pages are a gorgeous example of Saunders’ ability to evoke heightened emotion with the most economical prose. 

Describing the work of his Russian subjects in Swim, Saunders wrote that they “seemed to regard fiction not as something decorative but as a vital moral-ethical tool.” In Liberation Day, Saunders is actuated by similar concerns, focusing his attention on how, for better or worse, we weigh the moral choices we’re called upon to make and how we live with the consequences.

In his fifth story collection, George Saunders focuses his attention on how, for better or worse, we weigh the moral choices we’re called upon to make and how we live with the consequences.
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The flame that burns brightly on the colorful cover of Jonathan Escoffery’s debut is an appropriate image, because If I Survive You is a blazing success. With a profoundly authentic vision of family dynamics and racism in America, this collection of connected stories explores the young adulthood of a character named Trelawny, whose parents fled political violence in Jamaica only to face hard luck in Miami.

These eight stories (all except one were previously published) are completely immersive, humorous yet heartbreaking. The first, “In Flux,” sets the stage well, describing Trelawny’s 1980s childhood and his tortured, complex search for clarity about his identity. The questions are invasive: “What are you?” people ask him, and he turns to his mother, wondering, “Are we Black?” His confusion at school is loaded with cynical truths, such as his take on his fifth grade lessons about the history of slavery in the United States: “It’s: Mostly good people made a big mistake. It’s: That was a long, long time ago. It’s: Honest Abe and Harriet Tubman and M.L.K fixed all that nasty business. It’s: Now we don’t see race.

Sixth grade brings disaster: “A hurricane named Andrew pops your house’s roof open, peeling it back like the lid of a Campbell’s soup can, pouring a fraction of the Atlantic into your bedroom, living room—everywhere—bloating carpet, drywall, and fiberboard with sopping sea salt corrosion.” After the hurricane, Trelawny’s family rips apart, with his older brother and father moving out together. This parting is further explored in “Under the Ackee Tree,” a story told from the perspective of Trelawny’s father that was previously published in The Paris Review and included in The Best American Magazine Writing 2020. Trelawny’s brother, Delano, who longs to be a musician, shines in his own story set on the eve of Hurricane Irene, titled “If He Suspected He’d Get Someone Killed This Morning, Delano Would Never Leave His Couch.” 

Hoping to be a writer, Trelawny goes to college in the frigid Midwest, only to find himself back in Miami amid the Great Recession, living out of his SUV and scrambling for work. As Trelawny notes, he “had faithfully followed the upward mobility playbook, only to wind up an extraordinary failure.” This quest is at the center of a trio of riveting, memorable and surprising stories: “Odd Jobs,” “Independent Living” and the exquisite titular tale.

Escoffery brings an imaginative, fresh voice to his deep exploration of what it means to be a man, son, brother, father and nonwhite immigrant in America. As Trelawny notes, “If I don’t create characters who look like me, who will? Visibility is important. Otherwise, it’s as if we don’t exist.”

Jonathan Escoffery brings an imaginative, fresh voice to his deep exploration of what it means to be a man, son, brother, father and nonwhite immigrant in America. As his protagonist notes, "If I don't create characters who look like me, who will? Visibility is important. Otherwise, it's as if we don't exist."
Review by

For 25 years, beginning with her National Book Award-winning story collection, Ship Fever, Andrea Barrett has devoted vast amounts of her creative energy to vividly imagining several generations of a family and their friends living in central New York. In Natural History, the publisher tells us, Barrett “completes and connects the lives of the family of scientists, teachers and innovators she has been weaving throughout her books.”

First, let’s hope that this isn’t truly our final opportunity to spend time with Barrett’s characters. Long may they prosper! Many of them are female naturalists leading deeply compelling lives in provincial places, corresponding fruitfully with each other and with renowned scientists. They’re not simply unmarried teachers or traveling lecturers concerned with the science lab and the beauty of nature. They’re also devoted family members, lonely visionaries and rivals for the attention and approval of others. Their relationships, professional and emotional, are the understory to the science that seems to so fascinate Barrett.

Second, you need not have read earlier stories to be informed and dazzled by Natural History. (I have read less than half of Barrett’s books and still found myself astounded.) While the larger narrative of Barrett’s collected works has not emerged chronologically but instead episodically, this collection of six stories does contain a basic chronology, following schoolteacher and citizen-scientist Henrietta Atkins (born in 1852) into the early 20th century. A helpful family tree at the end of the book illustrates the range and complexity of family relations as well as the ties “beyond blood or marriage” that link characters.

Third, Barrett is sometimes described as a historical fiction writer. There’s truth in that. Many of these stories are set in the 19th century and offer rich sensory glimpses of small-town American life of that era. At the same time, Barrett has a more modern view of the winnowing processes of history. In one of the collection’s best stories, “The Regimental History,” Henrietta is a bright child serving in the home of a prominent local family, and she reads horrific and confusing first-person accounts of Civil War battles from two brothers in the family. Later, an older Henrietta, now a teacher, helps one brother attempt to clarify and defend his unit’s sullied reputation by contributing to the regimental history. And later still, an even older Henrietta visits a historian who possesses all the soldiers’ testimonials and will now refine and generalize and make everything clear.

Or maybe not. In Natural History, Barrett demonstrates that while history organizes and distills events, fiction brings messy humanity gloriously to life.

Andrea Barrett has devoted vast amounts of her creative energy to vividly imagining generations of a family and their friends living in central New York, but you need not have read her earlier stories to be informed and dazzled by Natural History.
Review by

There’s no guarantee that a writer who excels at short fiction will naturally succeed at novels, or vice versa, which is why it’s so exciting when a storyteller effortlessly crosses over. With her story collection, Bliss Montage, all the promise and power of Ling Ma’s 2018 novel, Severance, is gorgeously applied to the art of the short story. It’s a lyrical, potent anthology that blends fantasy and reality to dazzling effect. 

The eight tales in Bliss Montage are rooted in familiar, deeply human moments. For example: A pair of friends have an unhealthy relationship with drugs and each other, a woman is haunted by her romantic history, and a wife deals with losing track of her husband at an airport. But within these familiar beats, Ma inserts fantastical conceits, tilting our view of reality, until something strange and new creeps in. In “G,” the two friends take a drug that renders them temporarily invisible. In “Los Angeles,” the woman shares a house with her husband and 100 ex-boyfriends. And in “Returning,” the wife arrives in an unfamiliar country and learns about a burial ritual that might change her marriage forever. 

In each story, Ma seamlessly blends the real and the unreal with astonishing confidence and care. Laden with apt, surprising metaphors, her supernatural elements provide incisive, bittersweet commentary on human longing, loss and love. Her tightly structured sentences are little blades of wisdom and wit that slip into you when you least expect it, opening you up with bursts of raw, emotive power.

Bliss Montage is another triumph for Ma. Fans of elegant, well-crafted short fiction should not miss it.

In her first story collection, Ling Ma creates tightly structured sentences: little blades of wisdom and wit that slip into you when you least expect it, opening you up with bursts of raw, emotive power.
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Forging an entire short fiction collection around a single theme—and delivering one truly original tale after another—is trickier than it sounds. It’s too easy to fall into the trap of repetition and rhythm, making each tale read like the last one, just with the serial numbers filed off. Jane Campbell’s first book, which she’s publishing in her 80th year, maintains a thorough sense of originality while delivering a stunning range of works on the inner lives of older women. The stories in Cat Brushing cross genres and boundaries, daring the reader to meditate on previously unexplored (or at the very least, rarely explored) perspectives on aging, sexuality, violence and beyond.

In “Susan and Miffy,” a woman develops an unlikely sensual connection with her beautiful caregiver, challenging both of their notions about attraction. In “Lockdown Fantasms,” extreme pandemic isolation leads to a new program that sends government-sponsored spirits into the homes of the “over-seventies” to keep them company. In “Lamia,” a woman returns to the site of an old fling in an effort to recapture something in her own dangerous nature. In “Kindness,” a retired woman in a beachside retirement complex makes a choice that will change not one life, but three. And in the title story, a woman living with her son and his new wife explores the anxieties and uncertainties of existence while grooming her beloved pet. 

The baker’s dozen of tales that make up Cat Brushing are all delivered through lean, incisive, witty prose that calls to mind the calculated directness of Ernest Hemingway and the furious expressiveness of Joyce Carol Oates. Campbell’s sentences are solid, imposing, often free of adornment in terms of punctuation, and each one seems carefully crafted to get to the core of a certain emotional truth. Whether she’s writing a first-person or third-person narrative, Campbell’s wisdom, passion and honesty come through, imbuing the collection with an elegant, often lyrical power. 

Within these women’s stories of loss, desire, pain and memory, we discover the feeling of holding onto something primal even as the world seems determined to forget that side of us. To capture such complexity in one story is powerful, but for Campbell to do so 13 times makes Cat Brushing one of the most compelling fiction collections you’ll find this year.

In her first story collection, Jane Campbell's witty, lean prose calls to mind the calculated directness of Ernest Hemingway and the furious expressiveness of Joyce Carol Oates.
Review by

Every writer has to start somewhere. Maggie Shipstead’s bestselling 2021 novel, Great Circle, earned a place on the Booker Prize shortlist, but the road to such success is often long. In Shipstead’s case, as she explains in the acknowledgments of You Have a Friend in 10A, her path began with stories written while studying at the Iowa Writers’ Workshop and Stanford University. 

This collection of 10 works of short fiction, all previously published, gives readers the inspiring experience of charting the maturation of one of America’s finest authors. Most impressive is the book’s range of perspectives, from the chilling “La Moretta,” in which a couple on their European honeymoon slowly realizes their marriage may have been a mistake, to “Souterrain,” a tale of a dying Parisian man and his housekeeper’s son, who believes the man to be his father.

In a few pieces, it’s clear that Shipstead was still discovering what her words could do, but the best are exceptional portraits of characters unaware of the effects of their actions. Highlights include “The Cowboy Tango,” in which a Montana man who runs a ranch for tourists becomes smitten with the teenage girl he hired as a wrangler and joins “in the silent chorus of the unloved” when she falls for his divorced nephew; and the story “Acknowledgments” (not to be confused with the author’s own acknowledgments), in which a pompous author uses hilariously Nabokovian sentences like “Let us skip that Rabelaisian era known as adolescence and hop jauntily to my twenty-fifth year.”

In one story, a character reflects that “even a life lived properly, lived better than she was living, could bring so much grief.” The finest stories in You Have a Friend in 10A show that perpetual grief may not necessarily lead to great lives, but it can produce scintillating fiction.

Maggie Shipstead's collection of 10 short stories, all previously published, gives readers the inspiring experience of charting the maturation of one of America's finest authors.

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