Electric Literature acknowledges Viet Thanh Nguyen’s The Refugees as one of the 15 best short story collections of 2017.
We love short stories around here. We publish one every week in Recommended Reading, and our highest-traffic piece this year was an essay about a short story (more on this later, when we go through Electric Lit’s top stories of 2017!). And we’re not alone in this, either—after all, this is the year that, against all odds, a short story actually went viral. But among all the short stories we love, which 2017 collections were our favorites? Electric Lit staff and contributors voted for these 15 books as the best examples of short fiction this year.
A Life of Adventure and Delight, Akhil Sharma
“What distinguishes a great story writer from a mediocre one?” wrote Yiyun Li in her introduction to Sharma’s story in Recommended Reading. “Akhil Sharma would be among the few living authors I would choose, along with masters like Chekhov, William Trevor, Eudora Welty, and James Alan McPherson, to tackle that question.” The stories in this collection feature Indian protagonists, both in India and abroad, navigating relationships with their families, partners, and selves.
Read Akhil Sharma’s short story “If You Sing Like That for Me” in Recommended Reading.
A Selfie As Big As the Ritz, Lara Williams
“Williams is a smart and funny writer. She uses details that in the hands of another writer would lose their punch,” said Weike Wang in recommending Lara Williams’ short story “It’s a Shame About Ray.” “I admire that at the core of each story, Williams sticks to the familiar. Her writing however, her style, her voice, are anything but.” Title aside, this book is not just for Millennials, but it’s definitely the kind of thing young readers can look at and say “I feel seen.”
Read Lara Williams’ short story “It’s a Shame About Ray” in Recommended Reading.
Her Body and Other Parties, Carmen Maria Machado
Carmen Maria Machado’s collection of fantasy-inflected short fiction was a finalist for the National Book Award, and for good reason. Her unsettling, beautiful, often very sexy stories offer indelible images, but also deep insights into violence, mistrust, restriction, invisibility, and other darker aspects of life as a woman.
Read our interview with Carmen Maria Machado about her book cover.
Homesick for Another World, Ottessa Moshfegh
“Ringing with heartless descriptions of the emotions of pathetic men and miserable women, her short stories create realities of isolation that grapple with the filth and visceral discomfort of what it is to be a human being,” Zack Graham wrote in his Electric Literature review of Homesick for Another World. “Her stories employ a brutalist nihilism, forcing you to follow a character into the inner depths of their self-inflicted pain. Each scene is a right hook of eloquent depravity. Each sentence is a hand-crafted bullet.”
Large Animals, Jess Arndt
“Arndt writes with such poetry and such precision, that the force of the communication damn near knocks you over,” wrote Justin Torres in Recommended Reading. The experience of reading Arndt’s work, he said, is that one is “first mesmerized by the beautiful noise of the language, then knocked down, and dragged out to another, underwater world.” These hallucinatory stories teem with bears, walruses, parasites, and—strangest of all—the human body.
Read Jess Arndt’s short story “Together” in Recommended Reading.
Sour Heart, Jenny Zhang
“I didn’t want my characters to have to be ‘good’ immigrants in order to be worthy of having their stories told,” Jenny Zhang told Electric Literature in an interview. Indeed, her stories centering girls and young women from immigrant families are, as The New Yorker notes, “frequently disgusting”—but also intimate, honest, and unsparing.
Tender, Sofia Samatar
“Sofia Samatar writes with a clear feminist slant and social engagement, an understanding of history and the circle of the political wheel,” writes Chris Abani, recommending Samatar for Recommended Reading. “Her work leans into the traditions of Margaret Atwood (in The Edible Woman and The Handmaid’s Tale), Octavia Butler (in The Parable of the Sower) but with as layered, original and complex a world as anything devised by Tolkien or Lucas, and all the endless yearning of Toni Morrison and Kafka.” Fantasy author Samatar earns those lofty comparisons with a series of stories that fulfill the greatest promise of speculative fiction: spinning new worlds while also offering political and personal insight.
Read Sofia Samatar’s short story “Miss Snowfall” in Recommended Reading.
The Dark Dark, Samantha Hunt
Samantha Hunt’s eerie stories take the anxieties of womanhood—pregnancy and miscarriage, love and exploitation—and expand them to the point of horror. “Like the best short story collections,” wrote Carmen Maria Machado for NPR, “The Dark Dark chews on some delicious, evergreen themes in extraordinary ways.”
The Man Who Shot Out My Eye Is Dead, Chanelle Benz
“All good story collections coalesce into something greater than the sum of their parts, but The Man Who Shot Out My Eye is Dead does so more than most,” wrote Bradley Babendir in Electric Literature’s review of Chanelle Benz’s collection. “Benz has a deep understanding of the way people are marginalized by their gender, race, class, and other identities, and she finds a way to evoke that in every story. … The characters never seem far from encountering what they — and by extension, the reader — fear most.”
Read Chanelle Benz’s short story “The Mourners” in Recommended Reading.
The Refugees, Viet Thanh Nguyen
Viet Thanh Nguyen won a MacArthur Genius Grant this year, and if you read his quietly brilliant short story collection, you’ll see why. “Viet Thanh Nguyen writes funny,” insists Akhil Sharma in Recommended Reading, perhaps a surprise for a book named after and featuring refugees. But his work is bigger than just humor or sentiment: it “reminds us that there is a too-muchness to life also; that stories need to get bigger instead of trying to make life smaller.”
Read Viet Thanh Nguyen’s short story “Black-Eyed Woman” in Recommended Reading.
The Tower of the Antilles, Achy Obejas
“Sexuality, nationality, gender, ethnicity and race all come together here in those everyday ways that they do in our lives, and then some,” writes Porochista Khakpour in Recommended Reading. “Obejas’s striking terrain of syntax and diction produces a resplendent landscape for all sorts of plots to twist and turn upon.” Her Cuban and Cuban-American protagonists wrestle with questions of home, family, and fate but always keep the island in sight.
Read Achy Obejas’s short story “Kimberle” in Recommended Reading.
The World Goes On, László Krasznahorkai
Krasznahorkai “writes claustrophobic prose about entrapped characters who suspect that reality is a cruel labyrinth from which it is impossible to escape,” writes The Atlantic. If that sounds like your kind of thing, these bleak, strange, sometimes frustrating, but always self-aware stories may be right up your alley.
Turf, Elizabeth Crane
“The world is a bewildering, ridiculous place,” writes Lindsay Hunter, recommending an Elizabeth Crane story in Recommended Reading. “It’s easy to forget that while you’re tying your shoes, selecting a croissant, driving the same stretch of pale gray highway for the eleven-hundredth time. Elizabeth Crane mines the everyday and reveals what we’re missing. It’s unsettling. It’s hilarious. It’s…beyond. And you just know she’s having a great time, because suddenly you are, too.” The stories in Turf zoom from a global god’s-eye view to a hyper-specific catalog of anxieties, from the end of the world to the meaning of life to the tiny moments that can gut a friendship.
Read Elizabeth Crane’s short story “Mr. and Mrs. P Are Married” in Recommended Reading.
Wait Till You See Me Dance, Deb Olin Unferth
Rebecca Schiff recommended Deb Olin Unferth for Recommended Reading “because she’s one of the few fiction writers working today whose work is both poetic and funny, because she’s a sentence-level dazzler who knows how to tell a story.” Unferth’s collection explores what it means to be a woman existing outside of societal expectations—by aging, by being unlikable, by being a single mother or an old maid.
Read Deb Olin Unferth’s short story “Wait Till You See Me Dance” in Recommended Reading.
What It Means When a Man Falls from the Sky, Lesley Nneka Arimah
Arimah’s stories straddle Nigeria and the U.S., two places where the author has lived, and their genres are even more wide-ranging: realism and surrealism, myth and post-apocalyptic vision. The collection, her first, garnered rave reviews; NPR called it “a truly wonderful debut by a young author who seems certain to have a very bright literary future ahead of her.”