Top Ten Tuesday is a meme hosted by That Artsy Reader Girl, featuring a different top 10 theme each week. This week’s topic is Favorite Novellas/Short Stories.
1. Girl by Jamaica Kinkaid. This piece’s structure will challenge your notion of what makes a good short story. It’s only once sentence in which a mother advises and chastises her daughter. The phrases pile up on one another, generating an almost unbearable intensity. You can practically feel how much pressure is on a woman in a certain society and how impossible it is for her to please. You can listen to the author reading this short, short piece below. Her warm voice and lovely accent are pleasurable to hear.
2. Sno-Cone Cart by Rebecca Curtis (from Twenty Grand). A young woman wants to buy a sno-cone cart for her niece. Through her dogged attempts to buy the toy, and her interactions with her family members, we realize the depth of her longing to connect with others but her inability to perceive their slights. This may be both a blessing and a curse.
3. Sea Oak by George Saunders (from Pastoralia) . The main character in this story is a male stripper who works at a club called Joysticks. He’s been rated a “honeybee” by patrons, which feeds his ego. Surprisingly, the focus of the story is not on his work but on his home life. In the subsidized housing where he lives with a crowd of relatives, his Aunt Bernie, newly risen from the dead, advises everyone on how to improve their lives. It’s weird. It’s profane. It’s hilarious. On top of all that, it’s touching.
Sea Oak has been made into a TV show. I can’t quite fathom how that would work out, but many skeptics ended up enjoying it. It’s in my queue.
4. How to Date a Brown Girl (Black Girl, White Girl, or Halfie) by Junot Diaz. This is a satirical instruction manual on how to date a girl depending upon her race and social class. It is a master class in code switching. Stylistically, it’s also an excellent example of a short story written in the second person.
5. Noche Buena by Jennine Capo Crucet ( from How to Leave Hialeah). This story captures all the boisterousness of a Cuban American family celebration in Miami. You’ll love the vivid characters, descriptions of food and unique traditions such as the parade of well-loved family cars.
6. Apollo by Chimamanda Ngozie Adichie. Two boys develop an intimate relationship while laid low with Apollo (colloquialism for conjunctivitis or pink-eye). One is Okenwa, the son of a wealthy landowner and the other is Raphael, a servant. Location and disease may be the only thing they have in common. Their relationship is hobbled by differences in class and opportunity. The narrator, sweetly naive at the beginning of the story, doesn’t properly appreciate this until much later. The story demonstrates how coming-of-age and sexual awakening cannot be divorced from the social context in which it occurs. It evokes all of the elation and heartbreak one experiences at this time of life. It’s beautifully told.
7. Dungeon Master by Sam Lipsyte. “The Dungeon Master has detention.” Isn’t that an incredible first line? It captures both the indignity these characters suffer in their mundane lives and the inflated roles they give themselves in their fantasy world. This story is hilarious. I love to quote some of its choicer lines:
“Father,” the Dungeon Master will say, “stay the fuck out of my mind realm.”
But it’s also bleak and poignant. It has made me reach for the box of kleenexes a number of times.
8. A Good Man is Hard to Find by Flannery O’Conner. This story pierces the heart. In the most simplistic terms, it’s about a family trip gone horribly, horribly wrong. There’s no clear consensus on what the story means, but there’s a lot of food for thought on the topics of faith, righteousness and good vs. evil.
9. Hills Like White Elephants by Ernest Hemingway. Two characters sit in a bar while waiting for a train to come. Their conversation starts out with banal observations about the location and moves onto a topic that’s immensely important to both of them, but which they never name explicitly.
10. Here We Are by Dorothy Parker. A young couple embarks on their honeymoon. Both are at a loss to process their status as newlyweds. They struggle to sum up the import of this change in their lives, reflect on their wedding and the people who attended, and avoid hurting one another’s feelings. All of their chatter dances around the topic that weighs heavily in both their minds: the imminent consummation of their marriage.