Criticism, fiction and other writing
Here is a list of short stories that can be read online, and that I recommend (some more wholeheartedly than others). I previously maintained this list as a collection on Mix and as a board on Pinterest. I’ve deleted my Pinterest account and deactivated my Mix profile, so I thought it would be a good idea to recreate the collection/board as an ordinary web page.
Unfortunately, the comments I added to each link when I originally posted it have been lost. Mix seems to have done away with comments entirely, deleting the existing ones in the process (presumably because they were being used as a vehicle for spam). I was mistaken in thinking I had exported the Pinterest board as an RSS feed before deleting my account (as I did with some other boards). The feed would have contained my comments and pin descriptions, but unfortunately it doesn’t exist. As a result, many of the entries below are without descriptions or explanations as to why I think they're worth your while. In some cases, I’ve added new descriptions and I may well add more as and when I reread the stories.
Sarah Hall, “Wilderness”
As an Englishwoman and two South African men cross a rusting, decrepit and precarious viaduct high above a shallow estuary, the strains in two separate relationships become all too evident. This story appeared in The Guardian in 2013 and was included in Hall’s 2017 collection, Madame Zero. Tim Martin wrote in the New Statesman that the stories in the collection concern “displacements [which] are literal, figuarative and, occasionally, fantastical”.
Brendan Bakala, “Athrú”
The title of this piece of flash fiction is the Irish for “change”. The narrator, Kate, has been back to Ireland for a family occasion and is met at O’Hare airport by her father, who is awkwardly uncomfortable about one change in particular. A lesson in how to talk around a subject without addressing it directly.
Mary M Burke, “Transatlantic railroad”
Claire Buss, “Inspire-O”
Claire Buss writes science fiction, notably the novel The Gaia Effect. In this flash fiction piece, a discovery has made it possible for technology to give “destiny” a helping hand.
A S Byatt, “Sea Story”
The love “at first sight” of a sea-loving, shore-bound man for a seal-like woman who seems at home in the water loses significance when she reads his message in a plastic Perrier bottle differently than he intended: it has suffered a sea-change, even as it contributes to changing the sea.
Lucy Caldwell, “All the people were mean and bad”
A woman and her 21-month-old daughter, on a 7-hour flight home from Toronto to London after the funeral of a beloved cousin, form an ad hoc temporary family with the man in the next seat. From the collection Intimacies and winner of the BBC National Short Story Award for 2021.
Niamh Campbell, “An encounter”
A new short story by Niamh Campbell, whose “Love many” won the 2020 Sunday Times Audible award. A journalist interviewing a poet experiences the anxiety of influence.
Niamh Campbell, “Love Many”
I had previously linked to this winner of the Sunday Times Audible award for 2020 but the link broke, so I deleted it. I’m glad to say I’ve found another copy of the story online, and here it is. A woman dates a lot of unsatisfactory men, before finding one who is unsatisfactory in a different way.
Fiona Cooke, “Ventry”
Amanda Craig, “The ghost writer”
Iseult Deane, “Laces”
Laura, a costume designer in a small theatre, is in love with the leading male actor, Oliver. When he breaks his ankle in a bicycle accident, she steps into his shoes — and the rest of his costume. She fills his role for nine performances, but the costume doesn’t really fit.
Naoise Dolan, “Family news”
A new short story from the author of the novel Exciting Times. It’s told from the point of view of an effectively homeless woman who has moved in with her older sister and neice.
Deena Drewis, “Girls in love”
Three women, now in their late 20s, who have been friends since childhood, meet for brunch to resolve a crisis that one of them is going through. Their reunions are becoming increasingly rare. Why is that?
Wendy Erskine, “Locksmiths”
A woman who has inherited her grandmother’s house, where she and her mother were both brought up, takes her mother in following the latter’s release from prison after serving a sentence for homicide. It doesn’t look as if the resumed relationship will be easy for either woman.
Sorcha Fogarty, “The piano”
Mary Gaitskill, “This is pleasure”
Described as a novella, this 15,000-word story is narrated alternately by Margot and Quin, who have been friends for years. Quin is a senior editor in a publishing house and has believed “he could perceive people’s most essential nature just by looking at them” and that therefore he knew “what they would most respond to”. Unfortunately for him, younger women are less willing to play along with that ego-reinforcing kind of belief than their predecessors appeared to be.
Mia Gallagher, “All bones”
Sarah Gilmartin, “The wife”
Winner of the 2020 Máirtín Crawford short story award at the Belfast Book Festival. A woman reflects in anger and dismay on how her husband’s behaviour turned their two-star restaurant into “a hostile environment of pervasive sexual misconduct”.
Alan Glynn, “The copyist”
Imagine how different the world would be if John F Kennedy (1917–1963) had murdered John D Rockefeller (1839–1937) — in the 1870s. JFK is sent back in time and replaced in the Oval Office by a “copy”, with results that can’t be what anybody intended.
Anne Griffin, “Change given”
A man, once a musician in a busy salsa band, now an unsuccessful writer of advertising jingles, and still hopelessly in love with his ex almost 19 years after they split up, discovers that her no-longer-new husband is cheating on her. What is he to do with that knowledge?
Lauren Groff, “Snake stories”
Mark Haddon, “The pier falls”
This realistic, documentary (yet fictional) account of the collapse of Brighton pier in July 1970 is a frighteningly believable description of a disaster that, for all we know, might easily have happened.
Sophie Hannah, “The tennis church”
A Christmas short story featuring the characters from Hannah’s series of detective novels, Charlie Zailer and Simon Woodhouse. A childhood friend of Charlie’s seems to be missing, but insists that she hasn’t disappeared.
Kait Heacock, “Upstairs”
An insomniac nurse who works the graveyard shift 3 nights a week rents her basement apartment to an agoraphobic man whose girlfriend has been killed in a robbery and who never wants to go outside again. The nurse paces for hours at dead of night, her tenant starts to send her confessional notes with the rent cheque.
Dearbhaile Houston, “Viscera”
Dearbhaile Houston is working on a collection of short stories. In this one a woman dissects an unsatisfactory relationship and examines its entrails, before it has officially died.
Rosemary Jenkinson, “The lost generation”
From Jenkinson’s collection Lifestyle choice 10mg, the story of a school reunion after 25 years.
Kate Jones, “Jellyfish”
A powerful, and very short, story about bereavement and grief.
P Kearney Byrne, “Two damsons”
Two women celebrate the award of funding for an antisuicide centre in a small town near Carrick-on-Shannon. But there isn’t a lot you can do to celebrate in a town like that other than drink. “Drunk and horny sort of went together for me”, says Grace, the narrator.
John Lanchester, “Signal”
The narrator worries that one of the other guests spending New Year’s Eve at a country estate in Yorkshire, a very tall, cold (and rude) man, is taking a dangerous interest in his children. The tall man wanders around restlessly, speaking to nobody except the children, looking all the time at his phone. The host (the narrator’s friend from Cambridge, now stupendously rich) claims not to know who the tall man is, or even to have seen him. What does this mysterious figure want?
Clarice Lispector, “A woman knows to say no”
Jane McDermott, “The burden of proof”
Jon McGregor, “Martin’s story”
Barry McKinley, “Almost home”
Danielle McLaughlin, “Snow Globe”
An artist under commission creates a piece of public art highlighting homelessness in Dublin. A story about the artist’s responsibilities and the expectations of commissioning bodies and the public.
Sophie Mackintosh, “Self-improvement”
Ottessa Moshfegh, “The surrogate”
A 28-year-old woman with a model’s looks takes on the role of titular vice president of a business she doesn’t understand. She is the front woman for an enterprise owned and run by Lao Ting, who believes that his American customers would be happier to deal with a young, blue-eyed, Christie Brinkley lookalike than with him. Lao Ting appears to be a conman, but the narrator’s real problems lie somewhere else entirely.
Louise Nealon, “What feminism is”
This story won the Seán Ó Faoláin competition in 2017. A young woman, a student and writer, feels competitive with other young women, also writers, who (like her) have had sex with the male coeditor of a college literary magazine. The Irish Times headline on the story is “You've read Cat Person, now read this Irish bad-sex short story” but the comparison could lead readers to expect the wrong things from this story. There are superficial similarities, of course — male sex partner behaving badly, for a start.
Alissa Nutting, “Model’s assistant”
A woman, in her 30s but still “always the nerd at the party”, drifts into the unpaid but lucrative role of model’s assistant when the model, who is “from somewhere Swedishy” but almost certainly not Sweden, hands her a crystal-encrusted phone and, four days later, calls her on it. From Nutting’s collection Unclean Jobs for Women and Girls.
Frank O’Connor, “My Oedipus complex”
Nuala O’Connor, “Birdie”
Roisín O’Donnell, “How to build a space rocket”
It was only when I was putting this list into alphabetical order that I noticed that O’Donnell seems to have a liking for “How to …” titles. This story is told from the point of view of seven-year-old Keshika, finding it difficult to interpret the behaviour of her parents (who are about to “take a break” from each other) while trying to make a rocket with red phosphorous matches and aluminium foil.
Roisín O’Donnell, “How to learn Irish in seventeen steps”
A story from O’Donnell’s extraordinary collection Wild Quiet. A Brazilian woman marries an Irish musician and follows him when he goes back to Ireland, where she registers as a teacher. Her registration is conditional on her learning the Irish language within three years.
Helen Oyeyemi, “Interesting about E and A”
The friendship between two obscure Brontë scholars comes under strain when one of them receives some minor recognition. The narrator only ever refers to the slightly more successful scholar as “my best friend”. They speculate about an apparent reference found in a letter, and about the letter’s author, and about the parallels between their own relationship and that between the two youngest Brontë siblings.
Matthew Di Paoli, “Quicksand”
Karen Perry, “Tell me something about your wife”
A man is interrogated by his once-a-month lover about his wife’s involvement in a murder trial years earlier in Germany. He gains a certain calm from telling the lover much of the story, most of which he learned long after they had married. But there’s one thing he has promised his wife that he will never tell anybody else.
Edgar Allan Poe, “The facts in the case of M. Valdemar”
Chris Power, “The crossing”
A couple who don’t yet know each other very well go on a four-day hike on Exmoor, where they encounter danger.
Kate Reed Petty, “Earthquake season”
Adam Roberts, “Earth versus the Heliists”
A flash fiction story from the author of The Thing Itself and Purgatory Mount (the second of which is just out in paperback): the inhabitants of Earth survive and see off the unimaginably superior forces of the Sun.
Sally Rooney, “Color and Light”
Sally Rooney, “Mr Salary”
This is the first thing by Sally Rooney that I read, and I’m very glad it was. I discuss this and two other stories by her (including the previous item on this list) in “Oh my god, shut up”: Sally Rooney, short story writer.
Salman Rushdie, “In the South”
Salman Rushdie, “The lender of time”
A new short story by Rushdie, posted on his Substack newsletter (where he’s also serializing a short new novel for paying subscribers). Whimsical, perhaps would-be Borgesian and undoubtedly timey-wimey, it features a (temporary) visitor from The Furthest Galaxy Known To Man (FGKTM).
Kristin Sanders, “Some reasons to become a literary digital nomad (even if you fail)”
Tara Sparling, “The narcissist"”
Deirdre Sullivan, “A scream away from someone”
Madhuri Vijay, “You are my dear friend”
A thirtyish former au pair marries a much older man and adopts an 8-year-old girl from an impoverished background.
Kit de Waal, “Exterior paint”
Alfonse, originally from St Kitts, but who has lived in Marshall Street, Smethwick since the 60s, prepares to sell his house following the death of his wife, Lillian, and remembers their courtship, the racism of Lillian’s mother — and the visit of Malcolm X to their English midlands street, just 9 days before his murder.
Charmaine Wilkerson, “Anger management”
Winner of the Reflex Fiction quarterly international flash fiction competition for Winter 2017, this story contains a wealth of emotion, observed detail, metaphor, regret and (as the title suggests) anger in a very short length.
This page will probably be updated from time to time, as I find more short stories worth reading online or add descriptions or comments to the stories above that don’t already have them.
Posted by Art on 19-Oct-2020. Updated 24-Jul-2022.