Deborah Willis knows a good short story when she sees it. She’s the author of the new collection The Dark and Other Love Stories which features 13 stories that take on love in a plethora of forms. In one, a man falls in love with a crow (yes, you read that correctly). Another tale features a reality television show and a trip to Mars. In honor of her book’s publication, Willis has shared some of her favorite short stories with Bookish readers.
George Saunders’ Pastorialia is a joy to read, intelligent, deadpan, hilarious, and so weird. The title story takes place in that most Saunders-esque of settings, at a theme park, and follows the sad lives of people who must pretend to be cavemen for a living. The narrator is depressed because visitor attendance at the park is down, his coworker keeps speaking to him in English (which is forbidden—they are only allowed to communicate by grunting), and he is continually dealing with uncaring and incompetent managers. No one is better than Saunders at observing our corporate climate and mocking it mercilessly. But Saunders never forgets that humans are the heart of every story, and his work expresses endless empathy for the people caught up in an unfair and absurd hyper-capitalist system.
It’s simply impossible to choose just one book by Nobel Prize-winning author Alice Munro. In fact, I would name more if I had the space. But Hateship, Friendship, Courtship, Loveship, Marriage makes my list because its stories are nearly perfect, especially “Floating Bridge” and “The Bear Came Over the Mountain” (which was adapted into a lovely film called Away From Her). And The Lives of Girls and Women is stunning, a book of linked stories that chronicle the life of a young woman growing up in a small Ontario town. Munro is a genius when it comes to writing about love, sex, and family relationships, and these books show her at the lofty height of her powers.
Jeffrey Eugenides was given the near-impossible task of putting together an anthology of love stories, and he acknowledged how difficult it was to choose just one book’s worth. But his guiding principle was that love stories are different than love itself: “Love stories depend on disappointment, on matrimonial boredom and at least one cold heart. Love stories, nearly without exception, give love a bad name.” This anthology includes authors such as William Faulkner, Milan Kundera, Lorrie Moore, Eileen Chang, Miranda July, and Raymond Carver, and each story is full of passion, drama, pathos, and humor.
Linked stories are one of the great challenges a fiction writer can take on—and I should know, because I’ve failed at the task more than once! How to write a book that works as a whole, but that also contains stories that work on their own? Somehow Jennifer Egan makes it look easy, as Goon Squad is completely absorbing and written with so much earned confidence. Egan seems fearless, writing about a big cast of connected characters, setting her stories in the past and the near-future, using unusual narrative structures, and taking on themes such as aging, technological change, and time itself.
Translation makes all the difference, and Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky have translated Anton Chekhov beautifully, with a light touch that allows the lovely rhythm of his prose and his empathy for humanity to shine through. This one-volume selection of stories, representing all periods of Chekhov’s creative life, is artfully chosen to showcase the best of his short works.
Shirley Faessler caused a stir in 1967 when, at the age of 60, she published her first story in The Atlantic. Her collection about Jewish immigrants in Toronto in the 1920s and 30s was well-received, but fell out of print until recently. What a joy that her work has been revived, because she was a born storyteller. Faessler’s work concerns Russian and the Romanian immigrants who lived in the Kensington Market area—larger-than-life characters liked Pinny the Intellectual and Misha Liar—who marry, mourn, dance, drink, and struggle to make ends meet. Faessler’s voice is like a mixture of Alice Munro and the Yiddish writer Sholem Aleichem: Like Munro, Faessler deftly conveys family tensions and emotional shifts, but does so with Aleichem’s verve and sly humor.
Deborah Willis was born and raised in Calgary, Alberta. Her first book, Vanishing and Other Stories, was named one of the the Globe and Mail‘s Best Books of 2009, and was nominated for the Governor General’s Award. She was a writer-in-residence at Joy Kogawa House in Vancouver, BC, and was the 2012-2013 Calgary Distinguished Writers Program writer-in-residence at the University of Calgary. Her fiction has appeared in The Walrus, The Virginia Quarterly, The Iowa Review, Lucky Peach, and Zoetrope. She will publish her second collection of short stories with Hamish Hamilton, the literary imprint of Penguin Random House Canada, and with W.W. Norton and Company in the U.S. The Dark and Other Love Stories will also be translated into Italian by Del Vecchio Editore. Deborah is currently working on a novel.