Short Story Month is celebrated in May, apparently. I only just discovered this a few days ago, perhaps because I read short stories at about the same rate I read poetry. Which is to say, not very often. (Though I might need to amend this where poetry is concerned as I’ve read three poetry books this year so far – quite a record for me!)
I can’t say the same about short stories. Helen Oyeyemi’s What Is Not Yours Is Not Yours is on my list. The YA collection Summer Days and Summer Nights: Twelve Love Stories caught my eye on Instagram recently. Stephanie Perkins edited it, and I adored her holiday YA collection, My True Love Gave To Me: Twelve Holiday Stories, the year before last. I haven’t acquired either yet, though.
In recent years, I’ve read short story collections over the holidays, the aforementioned My True Love Gave to Me and Anthony Trollope’s Christmas at Thompson Hall and Other Stories. The selections were, obviously, inspired by the season. I found both deeply satisfying for very different reasons.
Each story in My True Love Gave to Me: Twelve Holiday Stories captures the magic of the holiday season, in very discrete ways. Each offers some iteration of a love story set during winter holidays, from Christmas to Hanukah to Yule. The collection features contributions from Rainbow Rowell, Matt de La Peña, Gayle Foreman, Jenny Ha, and David Levithan, among others. Not one story disappointed.
When I’m reading stories by the same author, some mechanism in my brain triggers a desire to linger in the world of the story. Wait, wait, I’ll think, as I turn the page and am plunged into newness, I’m not ready to leave yet! I did feel this way when each story in My True Love Gave to Me ended because they were so lovely. At the same time, I was interested to see what the next author would do with the collection’s theme. Each new story rewarded my curiosity by being its own brand of luminous, which made the wait, wait feeling morph into, Oooh, what’s next?
With Christmas at Thompson Hall: And Other Christmas Stories (Penguin Christmas Classics), I appreciated it most when I’d finished the last story and saw how intricately each meditated on what Christmas means. The first story, the titular “Christmas at Thompson Hall”, was painfully hilarious. I say “painfully” because it’s full of missteps and miscues and awkward moments. Christmas is more backdrop than foreground, as it follows a young ex-pat couple traveling from France to England for Christmas. The subsequent stories (five in total) pick up themes from the previous stories and build on or transform them. The final story is a serious exploration of the power of forgiveness and reconciliation. For those of us who celebrate Christmas as a religious holiday, it’s a very touching and meaningful way to bring the collection to a close.
Perhaps that provides the answer to the question I opened this piece with: What makes a short story collection work? My answer might be something like this: Each story builds on the previous one, turning themes over and finding new approaches, new ways of looking at them, pushing themes further. Each story is an integral piece of a larger puzzle that is greater than the sum of its parts.
What about you? How would you answer the question? Do you have any short story collection suggestions for me?