Short stories are better than novels.
Okay, they’re not. It’s a pointless comparison and one that’s responsible for impairing the general evaluation of this underrated art form.
Many hate the very idea of the short story, believing them to be embryonic of/inferior to novels; the published notebooks of established authors released between ‘proper’ books. The fact is some novelists don’t write short stories because they lack the ability. You wouldn’t expect (or want) Martin Amis to just knock out some poems – what rhymes with ‘The 80s’ – and yet short stories are piss easy apparently. ‘Quite good’ writers like Franz Kafka, Anton Chekov and Patricia Highsmith would presumably disagree.
A good narrative should have a beginning, a middle and an end. At their weakest, short stories are all middle. But at their best, short stories are tight and well constructed, move you to tears of laughter or misery and, unlike novels, must stick to the point. Precision is everything. It does not matter what else the author of a short story has written before, the entire planet of the writer should be in those pages.
Here are a few of my favourite short stories that I think are excellent examples of this underrated genre. Read them immediately.
The Hospice, Robert Aickman
Not exactly a ghost story more a perfectly unclear nightmare. A man stays the night at a hostel and everything is ever so slightly on the terrifying side of wrong. Scrub after reading because it will stick to you.
From the collection Cold Hand In Mine
Archibald And The Masses, PG Wodehouse
Known more as a novelist Wodehouse’s short stories are no less sharp and hilarious and Archibald And The Masses sums up his work perfectly. If you don’t like it you hate words.
From the collection Young Men In Spats
Let Them Call It Jazz, Jean Rhys
Only recently read this and already it’s one of the best expressions of depression I’ve known since Gilman’s The Yellow Wallpaper. Part of a collection called Tigers Are Better Looking that unfortunately Rhys’s publishers have chosen to put out of print. Naming no Penguins.
Taken from the collection Tigers Are Better Looking
The Lottery, Shirley Jackson
A hugely famous story, thanks in part to constant referencing on The Simpsons, Jackson’s creeping story has gotten under the skin of America in a way few novels have.
Taken from the collection The Lottery And Other Stories
Together, Dan Rhodes
At 101 words this is the shortest of short stories and the greatest description of self-delusion in a doomed relationship that you will ever read.
Taken from the collection Anthropology: And A Hundred Other Stories