Haunting, Fantastical, and Approachable Short Story Collections

Do you have a complicated relationship with reading? Do novels seem daunting, with their hundreds of pages? Do you get frustrated when you can’t read a whole story in one sitting because you have other life responsibilities? Short story collections might just be the thing to jumpstart your love of reading. The major benefit of a short story should be obvious; it’s shorter and you can often read a whole story in one sitting. It works great for those of us whose attention spans have been damaged by years of screen exposure and being much too busy to sit down and devote hours of our time to a single story.

Indulge in one of these short story collections — you’ll find them both haunting and fantastical, and perhaps a quicker read than a traditional novel. The Southern Review of Books has featured many wonderful collections of short stories, and they could be your ticket to reading more and loving it.

The Ghost Variations
by Kevin Brockmeier
March 2021

The Ghost Variations explores again what lies beyond — and between — life and death in one hundred stories. By turns philosophical, ironic, dark, and humorous, the fabulist tales in this collection feature ghosts in settings ranging from Victorian drawing rooms, African savannahs, and Chinese restaurants, to beaches ‘littered with kelp pods… growing stiff little punk haircuts of grass.’ There are ghosts from the past, the present, and the speculative future.”

“The Ghost Variations” is Philosophical, Ironic, Dark, and Humorous
Review by Mindy Friddle

Big Bad
by Whitney Collins
March 2021

Big Bad, Whitney Collins’ first standalone short story collection, lives in a realm between reality and surreality. Characters are forced to face their own inner darkness and acknowledge the sides of themselves that they’d rather not see. A young girl roots for the survival of one prematurely born twin brother over the other and delights in their ‘horrendous’ appearance; a young couple struggles to open up to one another; a husband decides to up and leave his family because he’s tired of his obligations and responsibilities.”

“Big Bad” Pushes the Boundaries of Both Its Characters and Its Readers
Review by Kate Murphy

She Is Haunted
by Paige Clark
May 2022

“With a steady narrative voice, Clark is able to show the many, often comical and irrational, sides of personal grief. Coping with a loss looks different on everyone. Whether it manifests into jealousy, regrets, insecurity, or plain old superstition, it is easy to relate to these situations and these characters, all of whom have a clear identity and way in the world. From an injured ballet dancer jealous of her husband’s ballet partner, to a daughter unable to connect with her brother and mother, to a high school student aiming for a top prize, She Is Haunted boasts a range of female narrators, and, though it’s not always apparent in the stories themselves, Clark has stated that each character is Asian American.”

Loss and Longing Shape the Stories of “She Is Haunted”
Review by Frankie Martinez

by Morgan Thomas
January 2022

Manywhere is a short story collection about travelling, about secret histories, and about finding and investigating identity. Whether it’s through identifying with a historic person as in ‘Taylor Johnson’s Lightning Man,’ or by pretending to be pregnant, as in ‘Bump,’ each story touches on the mundane struggles people face, exploring what it’s like to be an outsider. They manage to zero in on the gender-facet of identity taken for granted by many cis people. The voices here feel new and unheard of, unheard from.”

“Manywhere”: Stories in Search of Self
Review by Konstantin Rega

The Predatory Animal Ball
by Jennifer Fliss
November 2021

“The issues Fliss represents symbolically — class, social and political power, gender dynamics — are certainly real enough, even though her stories are often absurd. A tiny woman lives in a tiny terrarium hanging in a couple’s window. A woman named Emily who is beside herself discovers the phrase ‘beside herself’ to be literally true when she sees ‘the other Emily’ beside her. Gargoyles bear witness to the damage humanity has wrought on a city. Swan-shaped paddleboats take pity on a small boy who nearly drowns in the wake of a ferry. And the oppressed become the oppressors when sentient trees turn the tables on a pair of hikers.”

“The Predatory Animal Ball” Gives Voices to the Voiceless, Human and Animal Alike
Review by Amy R. Martin