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In that spirit and in no particular order, here are ten short stories you

might’ve missed that ambushed me with their odd wonder:

1. “The Zero Meter Diving Team” by Jim Shepard (BOMB Magazine)

This curious, masterful story is about a set of brothers who work as


managing engineers overseeing the Chernobyl power station on April 26,
1986, but, as with most of Shepard’s work, it’s also about the invisible
planets of loss that our personal lives orbit. It is both an education and an
elegy. Shepard’s forthcoming novel of the Warsaw Ghetto, Aaron Only
Thinks of Himself, promises more of the same.

2. “A Tiny Feast” by Chris Adrian (The New Yorker)

Titania and Oberon, the immortal Queen and King of the Fairies, live under
a hill in a modern city park. To save their marriage, they adopt a mortal
toddler and begin to raise him, only to discover he has developed terminal
leukemia. What follows, set in a fairy den and an oncology ward, is one of
the best (and, somehow, realest) short stories ever written, a haunting
exploration of love and death that has followed this reader, at least, into
marriage, parenthood, and nearly every subsequent day spent on this
earth.

3. “Lorry Raja” by Madhuri Vijay (Narrative Magazine)

One of the newest voices on this list, Vijay tells the story of Indian children
mining the ore used to construct Olympic stadiums in China with
remarkable poise and vision. While the inherently political nature of the
story is certainly important and the writing is ruthless in its detail, to
approach “Lorry Raja” in only that way is to miss the quiet power of Vijay’s
prose, as well as its ability to look honestly into the subtleties of family and
the scales of desire without denying beauty where it lurks.

4. “Bluebell Meadow” by Benedict Kiely (The New Yorker)

Published in 1975 at the peak of The Troubles in Ireland, Kiely’s unlikely


story of a small country park and the two young people who spend a few
afternoons together in it is sly, funny, and tremendously affecting. A lesson
simultaneously in understatement and heart, this story is really about the
near misses of the lives we almost live, as well as what time does to the
things that could’ve been. Long forgotten by most, author Colum McCann
miraculously resurrected it for The New Yorker‘s fiction podcast, and it is
best experienced in his wonderful voice.

5. “Some Other, Better Otto” by Deborah Eisenberg (The Yale Review)


It’s difficult to say exactly why this story—the reflections of intelligent,
grumpy Otto about his aging partner William, his own aging, his uneasy
relationship with his family, the sanity of his troubled sister, loneliness, and
the new baby of his upstairs renter—is as wonderful as it very much is. The
story is, in the end, a testament to the power of a whole person—caustic,
funny, articulate, alone, lost and found, cruel and loving—given life on the
page. Originally published in The Yale Review, eager readers can find it
in The Best American Short Stories 2004 anthology.

6. “City Lovers” by Nadine Gordimer (The New Yorker)

Also published in 1975, sixteen years before she would be awarded the
Nobel Prize, this is Gordimer’s story of the relationship between Austrian
geologist Dr. Franz-Josef Von Leinsdorf and a mixed-race Johannesburg
shop girl, an affair that is illegal in apartheid-era South Africa. One of the
most overlooked pieces of Gordimer’s writing, this is also one of the
quietest, and most effective. The uneasy dynamics of race, class, and
power (especially when it comes to love and sex) are nimbly explored here,
and build to a devastating end. It was similarly saved from obscurity, this
time by author Tessa Hadley, for The New Yorker‘s fiction podcast.

7. “Spring in Fialta” by Vladimir Nabokov

“Spring in Fialta is cloudy and dull,” begins this amusing and heartbreaking
story, perhaps the most underappreciated narrative Nabokov ever wrote.
Waiting behind Nabokov’s admittedly long and wry sentences is the plainly
moving story of a love affair pursued through the years. Every detail works
together here to render Nabokov’s testament to the illusiveness of love and
memory, and a reader’s patience is richly rewarded. Those interested can
find it online, or in the excellent anthology of love stories, My Mistress’
Sparrow Is Dead.

8. “Especially Heinous: 272 Views of Law & Order SVU” by Carmen


Maria Machado (The American Reader)

By turns funny, disturbing, canny, and inventive, this novella takes the form
of fictional episode summaries of the famous show (but if the show, as one
reader puts it, were directed by David Lynch). Machado, another new voice
in American fiction, manages to create an engaging, strange, and wholly
original story that draws into conversation sexual violence, popular culture,
and our own weird-feeling relationships therein.

9. “Inventing Wampanoag, 1672” by Ben Shattuck (FiveChapters)


While this very short, very tricky story purports to be about the birth of the
tribal language used to print the first Bible in the Americas, it is really about
the death of it, and the way history itself is a colonizing narrative.
Shattuck’s facility with prose makes this a funny, winning story, even as it is
a bitter and sad one: a clever and unique creation that will stay with you
long after you’re done reading.

10. “Painted Ocean, Painted Ship” by Rebecca Makkai (Ploughshares)

This humorous, deceptive story, loosely descended from Coleridge’s most


famous poem, follows an unreliable English professor as a single
compound error (mistaking a bird, then a student) births another and
another, eventually threatening her potential marriage, job, and fate. The
best part, however, is the turn at the very end, which reveals the entire
story to perhaps have been something different all along, a sneakily
stunning mediation on the limits of self-awareness, guilt, and penance.
Originally published in Ploughshares, curious readers can find it in the
pages of the Best American Short Stories 2010 anthology.