It's interesting to reflect as this year comes to end, how much I've become enamored with short story form. Since an early age, I have always preferred the novel to the short story. But as I have grown to love form and style as much as I love plot and character, short stories have become increasingly appealing to me.
This year there were numerous collections that I have found immensely rewarding, and still more that are on my to-be-read list. Here are a couple of them
Things That Never Happen - M. John Harrison. Possibly my all-time favorite collection and certainly the one collection that was most influential in making me love the form. This is a work in fantastic fiction, but many times what is fantastic in the stories takes a backseat to the very realistic characters that inhabit Harrison's slightly sinister England.
M. John Harrison stories are usually amorphous which does not mean that he lacks clarity in his craft. Like many good things in literature, this collection takes effort on part of the reader. It does not make the stories any less enjoyable as an experience, but one can not expect to be provided with the answers at the end.
There is something about Harrison's writing that is intensely terrible, haunting and realistic as well. Harrison never writes of people who are whole. His characters are broken human beings, who are aware and in many ways disastisfied with their state. They are constantly seeking something---perhaps meaning, perhaps magic in their lives. Yet this need or urge, even when the character succeeds, is never rewarding, but in turn haunts them. There is something terrible about existence, and I feel that Harrison captures this in his stories. There is great power and emotion in his writing, and it's written with absolutely beautiful prose. Go here for a better description of his work.Magic for Beginners - Kelly Link
Magic for Beginners is notches higher than her first collection Stranger Things Happen, which was lauded by both mainstream and genre critics. I'd highly recommend, "The Faery Handbag", "Stone Animals", and "Lull".
The Lottery: And Other Stories - Shirley Jackson
I have always been fascinated by Shirley Jackson, and I find it somewhat tragic that the only thing I ever read by her in high school was The Lottery. Her ghost stories are equally fantastic. The Haunting of Hill House is easily the most terrifying example of the classic haunted house story. Read it and see why.
The next two are books that are on my TBR list.
Brief Encounters with Che Guevara - Ben Fountain
The Dead Fish Museum - Charles D'Ambrosio