Saturday, May 12, 2012

Short Story Month: "6 Short Story Collections That Blew Me Away" by Bonnie Jo Campbell

The Quivering Pen has taken the brevity spirit of National Short Story Month to heart and condensed its celebration down to seven days.  All this week, I’ll have guest posts from some of the best writers of contemporary short-form fiction...and one dead author who will report from beyond the grave.  Today’s guest is Bonnie Jo Campbell, author of the story collections American Salvage and Women & Other Animals and the novels Once Upon a River and Q RoadAmerican Salvage was a finalist for the National Book Award and the National Book Critics Circle Award.  She’s also won the AWP award for short fiction for Women & Other Animals, as well as the Eudora Welty Prize and a Pushcart Prize. Her chapbook Love Letters To Sons Of Bitches won the Center for Book Arts Letterpress Chapbook Award for poetry.  She teaches at Pacific University and is a 2011 Guggenheim Fellow.

6 Short Story Collections
That Blew Me Away

There are so many wonderful collections coming out from big and small presses.  Here are six of the best new collections of short stories I’ve read in the last year or so, in alphabetical order:

Miracle Boy and Other Stories
by Pinckney Benedict (Press 53, 2010)
Ever since reading his story, “Mercy,” in Ontario Review and the Pushcart Prize Anthology, I’ve been a huge fan of Benedict.  Every story in this new collection is a miracle, a glimpse into the complicated wrestling match of the soul, and plain good reading.  Benedict knows his country people, in all their wonder and grotesquerie.  He knows their fears and triumphs.  If I had a prize, I would give it to this book from Press 53.

The World of a Few Minutes Ago
by Jack Driscoll (Wayne State University Press, 2012)
This book is a humanitarian triumph.  Jack Driscoll loves his characters, and you can see it even in the names he gives them, names a mother would call her children when singing to them or punishing them (Reilly Jack and Marley-Anne star in the first story).  His characters muddle through difficult lives, often unable to pay their power bills or their car insurance, and are unable, for sure, to understand their spouses or parents, and yet they are philosophers and conjurers of their own lives, and they look to the stars to make sense of it all.  These stories take place in starkly beautiful (and brutal) parts of northern Michigan.  Look out for lots of snow!

This Is Not Your City
by Caitlin Horrocks (Sarabande Press, 2011)
These stories are big breaths of fresh air, stories that swoop and shock (and you’ll find a lot of snow here too).  I am in awe of where this author takes us, especially the last story, “In the Gulf of Aden, Past the Cape of Guardafui” about a couple who is on vacation away from caring for their disabled adult child.  Here’s what Kathryn Lang of Minneapolis Star-Tribune said, “In the 11 stories of her debut collection, Caitlin Horrocks shows inventiveness and linguistic dexterity.  There are refreshing takes on old themes: childhood meanness, the effects of devastating illness, the desire for a better life, misunderstandings between parents and their children, looking for love in all the wrong places.”  She makes it look so easy!

Light Lifting
by Alexander Macleod (Biblioasis, 2011)
To read each story in this gorgeous collection is to live a series of rich and dangerous lives along the Canadian-Michigan border.  The forces threatening Alexander MacLeod’s characters include speeding trains, rip tides, lice, old age, automobile assembly lines, the exuberant despair of vacationing in Nova Scotia, and everything that lurks in the Detroit River.  MacLeod is a literary rock star, and his prose is wise and rowdy music.  I recommend this book to everyone.  (This is from a blurb I wrote.)  Here are some of the accolades this Canadian writer has received: American Library Association Notable Book of 2012, Irish Times Book-To-Read for 2012, Atlantic Book Award Winner, Finalist for the Giller Prize and the Frank O’Connor Award.

Happiness Is a Chemical in the Brain
by Lucia Perillo (W.W. Norton, 2012)
She’s known as a poet and a genius, but these tales are pure gritty realism.  Here’s what I said in a blurb: “The narrators in Perillo’s gorgeous, raucous collection are funny, smart, working class mothers, daughters, and sisters, who don’t bitch or ask for sympathy from anybody.  They may work shitty jobs, fool around with men they don’t love, and sport unfortunate tattoos, but they triumph by inhabiting their bodies fully.”

Portraits of a Few of the People I've Made Cry
by Christine Sneed (University of Massachussetts Press, 2010)
Every story in this wise, sometimes funny, sometimes brutal collection (which was the winner of the AWP Grace Paley Prize in Short Fiction) surprised me again and again.  These sexually savvy stories take the reader through art galleries, writing workshops and bedrooms galore in Chicago and other cityscapes.  The relationships Sneed explores are unbalanced, often involving young women and older, married men; and it is when these relationships unravel and decay that we understand the rich complexity of the characters’ lives.

photo by Bradley S. Pines


  1. Loved This is Not Your City as well; the rest of these are new to me - thanks for some great recommendations!

  2. Wow i will definitely explore these recommendations.

  3. Let me also say that Bonnie Jo's stories are triumphs of loss and love. I read one to my 14 year old daughter, Natalya, as we sat on the floor at Target waiting for her two sisters to pick out some littlest petshop action, and the story changed us into better people. thanks Bonnie Jo!

  4. Let me add A Manual for Cleaning Ladies by Lucia Berlin, Thunderstruck by Elizabeth McCracken, The Color Master by Aimee Bender... for starters!

    1. Great (additional) picks, Bonnie Jo!