Last week I shared my Top 5 Classic Short Stories, so here are my top 5 contemporary stories (and by contemporary, I’m talking later than the 70s!):
Tandolfo the Great by Richard Bausch
Although nothing too tragic happens in Tandolfo the Great, there is something very sad and poignant about it, which considering its exuberant title and the fact its protagonist is a clown, comes as a surprise. It tells the story of child’s entertainer Rodney, aka Tandolfo, who planned to propose to the love of his life using a huge, multi-tiered wedding cake which he has in the back of his car. However, having been spurned by the woman he wished to marry, he finds himself tipsy and expected to perform at a child’s party, with a huge reminder of his broken heart on the backseat. Bausch’s wonderful characterisation and the subtle, melancholic atmosphere (not to mention the unforgettable title!) make it a story that stays with you long after you have read it.
Free Radicals by Alice Munro
Free Radicals tells the story of a widow called Nita, who finds herself trapped in her house with an intruder. Whilst nothing much happens in the story other than two people speaking at a kitchen table, every second drips with tension, and the combination of naturalistic dialogue and the interesting back story makes the characters vivid and believable.
Cathedral by Raymond Carver
No list of great short stories would be complete without an entry from Raymond Carver, and Cathedral, in particular, encapsulates his distinctive writing style: minimalist, yet emotive. It tells the story of a man whose wife is old friends with a widowed blind man who comes to stay on his way to visit some family in Connecticut. Whilst the man initially feels left out by his wife’s friendship with the blind man and doesn’t know how to react to his disability, this seems to change when his wife falls asleep, and the blind man asks him to describe a cathedral that appears on TV. Unable to describe it, the two work together to draw it, and the man begins to feel differently, not just about the blind man, but about life in general. This is yet another example of a short story where seemingly nothing happens, but where a character undergoes a significant internal transformation.
I, Cthulhu by Neil Gaiman
No prior knowledge of H.P. Lovecraft’s Cthulhu mythos is needed to find Neil Gaiman’s I, Cthulhu (subtitled ‘What’s A Tentacle-Faced Thing Like Me Doing In A Sunken City Like This (Latitude 47° 9′ S, Longitude 126° 43′ W)?’) absolutely hilarious! The story basically involves Cthulhu dictating his life story to his human slave Whateley, in what proves to be a bizarre and extremely comical fashion. The unusual choice of narrator, as well as the distinctive voice, make this a truly original piece, despite it being based on the work of another writer.
Bullet in the Brain by Tobias Wolff
Bullet in the Brain tells the story of bitter, world-weary literary critic Anders who is waiting in line at the bank when a robbery takes place. His refusal to cooperate with the robbers earns him the eponymous bullet in the brain, and in an extremely unusual style, we follow the progress of the bullet, witnessing Anders life literally flashing before his eyes, before his inevitable death. I love the unusual stylistics of the story, as well as Anders sarcastic, and extremely negative view on life, which puts a humorous spin on the tragic events that ensue.
‘The bullet is already in the brain; it won’t be outrun forever, or charmed to a halt. In the end it will do its work and leave the troubled skull behind, dragging its comet’s tail of memory and hope and talent and love into the marble hall of commerce.’
From Bullet in the Brain by Tobias Wolff
So have you read any of these stories? What are some of your favourite contemporary short stories?