I’m not really a short story person; I prefer the character development a novel affords. There are, however, a few short stories that stick with me, haunt me, live in the back of my mind in a way few novels can.
Film versions have been made of some of these stories and they inevitably disappoint. They make them too long and add motivations or character development or change themes. These stories weren’t meant to develop character. They are short stories for a reason. Short and tight, they “pack a punch” that is ruined by giving them too much motivation and development.
My thoughts about this started this moring, fighting ants in the kitchen, dining room, entryway, bathroom, etc., We’ve had temps over 100 all week, and extreme temps bring out the ants. I couldn’t help but think of “Leiningen Versus the Ants” by Carl Stephenson. Now there’s a thriller for you: monster ants inevitably moving toward the plantation. It’s an exciting story and good for teaching plot among other story elements.
Then there’s my all-time favorite story: “By the Waters of Babylon” by Stephen Vincent Benet. **Spoiler Alert** Having not seen Planet of the Apes by the time I was a sophomore in high school, I was blown away by “Babylon.” It’s a slow, mysterious build-up to its surprise conclusion. I was enthralled. (About eight years later, teaching sophomores, I excitedly opened the anthology–I was sure it was the one I had used as a student–and it was no where to be found. I asked my former teacher–she was still at the school–and she admitted she had, at least occasionally, used an older, outdated anthology with us, one she thought had better stories. Then she turned to her file cabinet and pulled out a stack of photocopies of “By the Waters of Babylon” and I was set. Later, when I got to help choose new anthologies, it was one of the stories I checked for, so they had it again, at least for awhile.)
There’s also Vonnegut’s “Harrison Bergeron,” which, I swear, became truer and truer every year I taught.
Ambrose Bierce’s “An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge” really does haunt.
“A Good Man is Hard to Find” is still the only thing I’ve read by Flannery O’Connor, and I should remedy that. I’m still not sure just what to make of it, yet there it stays.
Shirley Jackson’s “The Lottery” continues to stun me. I used to read that with my students on Halloween. I’m not sure why I thought that fit, but it worked.
I’m sure there are more, but those are the ones that come to mind. If there’s one you haven’t read, give it a whirl and let me know what you think.
What are the short stories that made an impression on you?