Short Stories To Savor On A Winter Weekend

Dec 28, 2012
Originally published on December 29, 2012 5:38 pm

Hortense Calisher, a virtuoso of the form, once called the short story "an apocalypse in a teacup." It's a definition that suits the remarkable stories published this year by three literary superstars, and two dazzling newcomers with voices so distinctive we're likely to be hearing from them again. These stories are intense, evocative delights to be devoured singly when you have only a sliver of time, or savored in batches, at leisure, on a winter weekend.

As a lagniappe, begin with Object Lessons, a pairing of 20 contemporary authors with 20 potent classics from the pages of The Paris Review. Among them: Dave Eggers on "Bangkok"; James Salter's time bomb of a love-gone-bitter story; and Aleksandar Hemon on Jorge Luis Borges' cosmic "Funes, the Memorious," about a man cursed with the inability to forget anything.

Then move on to these five, my best collections of 2012:

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And those are not our only book recommendations as we approach 2013. If you like your storytelling compact, your bedtime stories short, Jane Ciabattari has just the thing. She's a book critic and the author of numerous short stories herself.

JANE CIABATTARI: My favorite definition of a short story comes from the master of the form Hortense Calisher, who calls it an apocalypse in a teacup.


CIABATTARI: I'm going to focus today on a collection by a newcomer. His name is Luis Jaramillo. This book is called "The Doctor's Wife," and it's 91 ultra-short chapters, some as brief as a sentence. They add up to a portrait of a family.


CIABATTARI: The doctor's wife, the title character, stays with me because, of course, she's the heart of the book. But the other person who stays with me is the child, John, who is, at 11 months old, considered a very smart baby. But by 18 months, he's not walking. It's just a heartbreaking scene of somebody dealing with a child who has a wasting ailment that she doesn't understand.


CIABATTARI: I would give this book to somebody who may not have a lot of time to read. I think it's easy to put by your bedside, it's easy to carry in your purse. You can read one or two stories and they stay with you, and you can pick up the thread and move forward.


WERTHEIMER: Jane Ciabattari is the author of "Stealing the Fire." You can find the rest of her list of the best short story collections of 2012 at Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.