Is life, as the famous quote would have it, like a box of chocolates? Not necessarily, but a good story collection is: full of surprise, variation, and occasionally some very unexpected contents. I consider short stories to be members of an entirely different species than novels, with their own distinct pleasures. In stories, feats of language are a must, and an author will often take greater risks with plot and imagination than she might in a novel. It’s a sprint instead of a marathon, an aria instead of an opera. Here are 7 story collections I’m looking forward to reading this year.
The Unfinished World, by Amber Sparks (January 25)
Have you ever wondered what might compel a woman to take a position as a janitor for the international space station? Amber Sparks has. Sparks, the author of two previous books, is earning accolades for her most recent collection, which straddles the lines of literary, speculative, and flash fiction. Sparks deftly brings whole fantastic worlds to life in the space of as little as a few short paragraphs.
Dog Run Moon, by Callan Wink (February 9)
Readers partial to fiction set in the great American West should check out Callan Wink, who worked as a fly-fishing guide in Montana before publishing the story “Dog Run Moon” in The New Yorker while he was a creative writing student at the University of Wyoming. A focus on animals, wide-open spaces, and the types of people that live around them has earned Wink comparisons to Annie Proulx and Jim Harrison. Dog Run Moon, named after that first New Yorker story, is his debut.
Cities I’ve Never Lived In, by Sara Majka (February 16)
Many readers pay no mind to which publishers are behind the books they read, but we story hounds perk up when we learn that indie powerhouse Graywolf Press, home of unfailingly good short story taste, is publishing a new collection. Sara Majka’s Cities I’ve Never Lived In is a collection of brooding tales set mostly in Maine, linked through a similar narrator, a woman whose marriage has dissolved and who is now seeking connection and relief from her loneliness.
Prodigals, by Greg Jackson (March 1)
Greg Jackson’s brash “Wagner in the Desert,” first published in The New Yorker, begins like this: “First we did molly, lay on the thick carpet touching it, ourselves, one another. We did edibles, bathed dumbly in the sun, took naps on suède couches. Later, we did blow off the keys to ecologically responsible cars.” It goes on to further detail this episode of unbridled Palm Springs debauchery among young professionals, some members of “that strange species of human being who has invented an app.” Go into this collection expecting high-powered vocabulary, meta-narratives, and disillusionment of the privileged.
What Is Not Yours Is Not Yours, by Helen Oyeyemi (March 8)
In high school, some of us were just trying to remember our locker combination, but Helen Oyeyemi was already writing her first novel, The Icarus Girl. Oyeyemi has since gone on to write four more novels steeped in mythology, literature, and folklore—and she’s still only 31. No wonder Granta included her on its 2013 Best of Young British Novelists list. Her first story collection arrives in March, and the titles of the stories alone—including “A Brief History of the Homely Wench Society” and “‘Sorry’ Doesn’t Sweeten Her Tea”—are enough to intrigue.
The Pier Falls, by Mark Haddon (May 10)
British novelist Mark Haddon is best known for his wry, award-winning 2003 mystery, The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, told from the perspective of a fifteen-year-old who appears to be on the autism spectrum. Haddon has written more than a dozen books for young people, as well as two more adult novels, but The Pier Falls is his first short story collection for grownups. Although he took up writing stories later in his career, he’s no short fiction slouch—his story “The Gun,” won an O. Henry Prize.
The Fat Artist and Other Stories, by Benjamin Hale (May 17)
Benjamin Hale’s 2011 debut novel, The Evolution of Bruno Littlemore, earned him plenty of fans through its story narrated by a sentient and romantic chimpanzee. His first story collection promises to be a wild ride across a deeply strange America, featuring a dominatrix with a problematic corpse on her hands, a performance artist attempting the impossible, and more.