If you like your tales and literary adventures in bitesize chunks, then you’re likely to be a fan of the short story. Here we look at just 10 of what we feel are some of the most unmissable in the genre that will captivate, intrigue and amaze the reader in equal measure. We hope you enjoy the collection of top 10 short stories we have put together.
This is a story of almost forgotten times for a little boy named Jack when his Chinese mother used to make him origami animals that she was able to magically bring to life by simply blowing on them. Jack tries hard to forget what he sees as ‘childish things’ and fit in with his new friends after relocating to Connecticut in the USA.
The Paper Menagerie is a wonderful fantasy tale of how his mother attempts to rekindle her fantastical relationship with her now teenage son by learning English. Sadly, she passes away before Jack finds out more about her past in a message he finds in one of her animals. It’s a great story that will pluck at your heartstrings and is well worth its place on our top 10.
We now look at a short story that focuses on jealousy, isolation and misconception in ‘Cathedral’ by Raymond Carver. The narrator talks about his wife – who he loves dearly – who keeps getting visits from a blind man, Robert. This relationship remains private to the narrator, which only serves to stoke his paranoia and distrust.
It’s not until nearer the end of the story that he begins to see things as they really are, after ironically getting guidance by the blind man himself. This entertaining story is one that explains that things are rarely exactly as they seem. We think you’ll enjoy it greatly.
Our next tale is one of folly and misadventure as an unnamed man tries against all reason to cross 10 miles of inhospitable Yukon wilderness in ‘To Build a Fire’ by Jack London. Despite conditions being about as severe as they can be with temperatures dropping down to 75 below zero, the man attempts to make his journey and meet his compatriots at a camp a mere two hours later.
In a mixture of dark humour and a stark realisation by the main protagonist of the wisdom of his trip, this book will have you guessing until the end. A really enjoyable, yet unusual story of man versus nature.
Heading back to the American Civil War now with a psychological thriller written by Ambrose Bierce. An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge will take you this way and that as a war between the Confederates and the Yankees leads to Peyton Farquhar finding himself standing with a noose wrapped around his neck on the end of a plank.
He somehow escapes this precarious position and sets the scene for a near-epic journey and possible redemption. Not without a dramatic twist or two, this tale, set in the mid 19th century offers a somewhat gruesome finale. In what form? You’ll have to read it yourself to find out.
If it’s ironic twists and black humour you’re after, then Beyond the Door is a short story that will appeal to you. Larry Thomas loses his beloved wife Doris to Bob, an antique enthusiast after he catches them in flagrante in the marital home. Whilst throwing out the pair, he decides to keep a cuckoo clock that he had recently bought for Doris out of spite, but it ends up silently mocking him and his situation.
So incensed is Larry with this perceived laughter in his direction from the wall hung cuckoo clock that he vows to destroy it with a hammer. What ensues has to be read to be believed and that’s exactly what you’ll have to do. Don’t worry though, it’s only a short story.
All in the Mind is a story by Gene L Henderson that combines the macabre with existential thought. Waking up in a black void, Mel Carson felt himself floating but had no idea where or why, until his memory starts to return to him. He recalls working in a remote, mountain-based research lab, experimenting on animal brains.
His lab partner Neil states that “to move forward, we need a fresh, healthy human brain”, however, Mel is somewhat reticent about the idea, as he already fears a press scandal for the work they’ve already carried out. Remembering a sharp pain and then nothingness, Mel starts to piece together what might have happened to him and that’s when it really starts to get interesting. This is a fantastic short story you really won’t want to put down.
Our next short story is a moral tale that teaches you where bravado and arrogance can get you, as U.S. Cavalry Lieutenant Ranson mocks a well-known outlaw known as “The Red Rider”. Whilst boasting to his fellow officers, he states that what this outlaw had done was mere piffle and that he himself could hold up a stagecoach using nothing but a pair of scissors – something that he succeeds in doing.
However, this backfires, leading to Ranson’s arrest and trial as being The Red Rider himself. The father of Mary, lies to save him and claims that he is the outlaw, not Ranson, knowing full well that the real bandit was still out there and at large. Will justice prevail? There’s only one way to find out!
Quite different to the image that ‘A Place in the Sun’ conjures up, this intriguing short story by Stephen Marlow follows a shapeshifting character known as Johnny Mayhem who can assume the form of any person he likes. Thrills abound as Mayhem is ordered to rescue a spacecraft that is on a direct collision course with the fiery Sun.
You’ll be drawn in by this pulse-quickening story that describes whether or not he is able to save the seemingly stricken space ship before it gets too close to the maelstrom of the gigantic star. Will he succeed or die trying? You know what to do.
Set in a fictional Central American Country known as Anchuria, ‘Cabbages and Kings’ is a complex story that focuses on the people who live there, their politics, society and commerce. During the story, their deposed leader has committed crimes against his people and robbed huge amounts of money from the Federal Reserve.
As well as describing their attempts to bring this former head of state to justice, this story also looks at the lives of ordinary people and their own problems. This is a genuine tale of the ‘little people’ against the seemingly untouchable and it will keep you turning every page of its 18 chapters.
An epic that was made famous in a film starring Jake Gyllenhall and Heath Ledger, Brokeback Mountain actually started off as a short story by Annie Proulx. Ennis Del Mar, a cowboy who has lost his job and must move from his house unexpectedly falls for another man who crosses his path called Jack Twist.
This forbidden love consumes them both and threatens to rob Ennis of the only thing he has left – his wife and family. This amazing short story is a contemporary one that shows that sometimes love just chooses you, rather than the other way around.
So there you have it, an eclectic selection of short stories that will give you intrigue, thrills, spills and moments that will warm your heart. All this and without the need to spend hours and hours reading them. We hope you enjoy making your way through these titles.
We’ll see you again next time.
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