Over at NaBloPoMo, Elizabeth Coplan asked me about short fiction. As I've been running out of gas a bit the past few days, her comment was like manna from heaven for me: here was a topic I hadn't thought of, that was actually related to my theme, unlike the random memes (which are fun, but I think the fact that EVERYBODY does them dilutes the effect somewhat. I mean, how excited do you still get to find out which Hogwarts house your friends are in?)
I love short fiction. I started my New Yorker subscription especially because of their excellent short fiction. I'll give almost anything a try. Anyone who's looking for good short fiction has an excellent annual one-stop shop in the Best American Short Stories anthologies. Each anthology has a different guest editor (Barbara Kingsolver, Michael Chabon, Stephen King and Ann Patchett are some recent ones). I was introduced to the wonderful George Saunders through that series, and it's also a good way to "save" some of the ones you especially like. I read part of a Richard Russo short story in this year's anthology at the Barnes and Noble opening I went to last month, and it was very good.
Welcome to the Monkey House, by Kurt Vonnegut, is still a favorite collection of mine. Not everything in it is pure gold; there were plenty that escaped me altogether. "All the King's Men" was one of the most suspenseful things I've ever read, and the last sentence of "Report on the Barnhouse Effect" still reverberates in my head ("...with that last, terrible sentence flitting through my head, I rolled fifty consecutive sevens. Good-bye.") George Saunders also writes great fiction, especially his premise fiction.
In a completely different vein, almost all of the Alice Munro collections are good too. Munro is good at establishing the texture and feel of a particular time and place. There's also a wide variety in her stories. Many writers basically write about themselves over and over again, and while you can see a lot of common threads in her stories, she's not afraid to try something different.
E. Annie Proulx's stories are very enjoyable. Everyone knows how terrific "Brokeback Mountain" was, but she's got a couple of collections out that really establish the modern American West, and touch on themes I don't believe anyone else is writing about. She can make you care passionately about things like the disappearance of the small ranch, things you normally don't even think of and wouldn't give a shit if you did. I believe that Bad Dirt is her most recent collection of short fiction.
Some other stories that stand out in my mind are "Haunting Olivia" by Karen Russell, "Brownies" by ZZ Packer, "The Alpine Slide" by Rebecca Curtis (don't you just ADORE the online archives of the New Yorker?), "First, Body" by Melanie Rae Thon, and "Early Music" by Jeffery Eugenides (I know it was in The New Yorker, too, but can't turn it up in the archives). Enjoy!