November 2020 favorites

November 2020

The November stories ordered solely on my personal tastes.

  1. ‘Love Letter’ by George Saunders
  2. ‘A Temporary Matter’ by Jhumpa Lahiri
  3. ‘The Lie’ by Maeve Brennan
  4. ‘The Dead’ by Joyce Carol Oates
  5. ‘The Lady With The Pet Dog’ by Joyce Carol Oates
  6. ‘The Clever One’ by Maeve Brennan
  7. ‘Going To Meet The Man’ by James Baldwin
  8. ‘Horses In The Night’ by Margaret Laurence
  9. ‘The Turn Of The Screw’ by Joyce Carol Oates
  10. ‘The Old Man Of The Sea’ by Maeve Brennan
  11. ‘The Metamorphosis’ by Joyce Carol Oates
  12. ‘The Devil In Us’ by Maeve Brennan
  13. ‘The Barrel Of Rumors’ by Maeve Brennan
  14. ‘Fern’ by Jean Toomer
  15. ‘John Inglefield’s Thanksgiving’ by Nathaniel Hawthorne
  16. ‘The Boy Who Painted Christ Black’ by John Henrik Clarke
  17. ‘Mouses’ by Thom Jones
  18. ‘Housewife’ by Amy Hempel
  19. ‘Where I Lived, And What I Lived For’ by Joyce Carol Oates
  20. ‘My Brother At The Canadian Border’ by Sholeh Wolpé

As always, join the conversation in the comments section below, on SSMT Facebook or on Twitter @ShortStoryMT.

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July 2018 favorites

July 2018

The July stories ordered solely on my personal tastes.

  1. ‘So Peaceful In The Country’ by Carl Ruthven Offord
  2. ‘God Bless America’ by John Oliver Killens
  3. ‘Muttsy’ by Zora Neale Hurston
  4. ‘Sanctuary’ by Nella Larsen
  5. ‘Blood-Burning Moon’ by Jean Toomer
  6. ‘On Trains’ by James Alan McPherson
  7. ‘Landladies’ by Langston Hughes
  8. ‘Kiswana Browne’ by Gloria Naylor
  9. ‘Simple On Military Integration’ by Langston Hughes
  10. ‘Condemned House’ by Lucille Boehm
  11. ‘Simple Prays A Prayer’ by Langston Hughes
  12. ‘Feet Live Their Own Life’ by Langston Hughes
  13. ‘Steady Going Up’ by Maya Angelou
  14. ‘Exodus’ by James Baldwin
  15. ‘Mother’ by Andrea Lee
  16. ‘Long Distances’ by Jewell Parker Rhodes
  17. ‘Simple On Indian Blood’ by Langston Hughes
  18. ‘Conversation On The Corner’ by Langston Hughes
  19. ‘The Diary Of An African Nun’ by Alice Walker
  20. ‘Vacation’ by Langston Hughes

As always, join the conversation in the comments section below, on SSMT Facebook or on Twitter @ShortStoryMT.

Subscribe to the Short Story Magic Tricks Monthly Newsletter to get the latest short story news, contests and fun.

October 2014 favorites


October 2014

The October stories ordered solely on my personal tastes.

  1. ‘Everything That Rises Must Converge’ by Flannery O’Connor
  2. ‘A Good Man Is Hard To Find’ by Flannery O’Connor
  3. ‘The River’ by Flannery O’Connor
  4. ‘A&P’ by John Updike
  5. ‘The Life You Save May Be Your Own’ by Flannery O’Connor
  6. ‘The Yellow Wallpaper’ by Charlotte Perkins Stetson Gilman
  7. ‘The Tell-Tale Heart’ by Edgar Allan Poe
  8. ‘Nilda’ by Junot Diaz
  9. ‘Young Goodman Brown’ by Nathaniel Hawthorne
  10. ‘The Lady’s Maid’s Bell’ by Edith Wharton
  11. ‘Luella Miller’ by Mary Wilkins Freeman
  12. ‘The Outcasts Of Poker Flat’ by Bret Harte
  13. ‘The Sutton Place Story’ by John Cheever
  14. ‘Premium Harmony’ by Stephen King
  15. ‘Paper Losses’ by Lorrie Moore
  16. ‘This Morning, This Evening, So Soon’ by James Baldwin
  17. ‘Three Players Of A Summer Game’ by Tennessee Williams
  18. ‘A Stroke Of Good Fortune’ by Flannery O’Connor
  19. ‘The Body Snatcher’ by Robert Louis Stevenson
  20. ‘Awake’ by Tobias Wolff
  21. ‘In Greenwich, There Are Many Gravelled Walks’ by Hortense Calisher
  22. ‘A Dark Brown Dog’ by Stephen Crane
  23. ‘Nothing Ever Breaks Except The Heart’ by Kay Boyle

‘This Morning, This Evening, So Soon’ by James Baldwin

Baldwin, James 1960

This Morning, This Evening, So Soon by James Baldwin, 1960

The magic trick:

Jumping between present, past, and future to reflect the story’s ideas about time and identity

Time, place, and identity loom large over this story, so it makes sense that Baldwin jumbles up all three elements throughout the unfolding of the narration. Our narrator, a nightclub singer who is moving back to the United States after 12 years in Paris, discusses a morning and evening in the present tense. But he also bounces back and forth between different memories from his past in America and France, all the while anticipating his feelings about adapting to an uncertain future. Some of it has a tendency to ramble, and I’m not sure some of the racial comparisons and contrasts always add up, but the point is made clear: one’s sense of identity is a complex thing, especially for an African-American expatriate in the 1950s. And that’s quite a trick on Baldwin’s part.

The selection:

Once I had been an expert at baffling these people, at setting their teeth on edge, and dancing just outside the trap laid for me. But I was not an expert now. These faces were no longer merely the faces of two white men, who were my enemies. They were the faces of two white men in accordance with what I knew of their cowardice and their needs and their strategy.


June 2014 favorites


June 2014

The June stories ordered solely on my personal tastes.

  1. ‘Venus, Cupid, Folly And Time’ by Peter Taylor
  2. ‘Blackberry Winter’ by Robert Penn Warren
  3. ‘Babylon Revisited’ by F. Scott Fitzgerald
  4. ‘Upon The Sweeping Flood’ by Joyce Carol Oates
  5. ‘Good Country People’ by Flannery O’Connor
  6. ‘My Old Man’ by Ernest Hemingway
  7. ‘I’m A Fool’ by Sherwood Anderson
  8. ‘Sonny’s Blues’ by James Baldwin
  9. ‘Only The Dead Know Brooklyn’ by Thomas Wolfe
  10. ‘Double Birthday’ by Willa Cather
  11. ‘The View From The Balcony’ by Wallace Stegner
  12. ‘The Magic Barrel’ by Bernard Malamud
  13. ‘No Place For You, My Love’ by Eudora Welty
  14. ‘The Schreuderspitze’ by Mark Helprin
  15. ‘The Hartleys’ by John Cheever
  16. ‘O City Of Broken Dreams’ by John Cheever
  17. ‘A Day In The Open’ by Jane Bowles
  18. ‘The Lottery’ by Shirley Jackson
  19. ‘In The Zoo’ by Jean Stafford
  20. ‘The Lost Phoebe’ by Theodore Dreiser
  21. ‘Welcome To The Monkey House’ by Kurt Vonnegut Jr.
  22. ‘How Beautiful With Shoes’ by Wilbur Daniel Steele
  23. ‘The Little Wife’ by William March
  24. ‘A Distant Episode’ by Paul Bowles
  25. ‘The Faithful Wife’ by Morley Callaghan
  26. ‘The Golden Honeymoon’ by Ring Lardner
  27. ‘Resurrection Of A Life’ by William Saroyan
  28. ‘The State Of Grace’ by Harold Brodkey
  29. ‘A Telephone Call’ by Dorothy Parker
  30. ‘The Survivors’ by Elsie Singmaster

‘Sonny’s Blues’ by James Baldwin

baldwin, james 1956

Sonny’s Blues by James Baldwin, 1957

The magic trick:

Getting to the essence of Sonnys character

So many stories – even the good ones – describe characters in only adjectives or maybe the author lets the characters show themselves through actions. And that’s OK, but Baldwin is on a whole other level here in the way he portrays Sonny. The narrator spends the entire story trying to get to fully understand his younger brother, so it allows the reader to take the same journey. And Baldwin delivers a complete picture.

The narrator blends a combination of analysis, family memories, and accounts of interactions with Sonny, to give the reader a multi-faceted vision of his brother. The most effective is the analysis, in which Baldwin – through his narrator – shows uncommon insight into the human condition. My favorite instance of this is the narrator’s description of both his father and brother as having “that same privacy.” It’s a subtle human characteristic – detachment without malice – that often escapes notice in art and even in real life. Baldwin catches it and highlights it beautifully in this story.

“Sonny’s Blues” is about many specifics: 1950s urban America, the pre-Civil Rights Era African-American experience, jazz, poverty, and drug addiction, to name a few. But the way in which Baldwin is able to cut to the core of his characters, especially Sonny, gives the story a timeless quality that transcends race, genre, and era. And that’s quite a trick on Baldwin’s part.

The selection:

They began, in a way, to be afflicted by this presence that was living in their home. It was as though Sonny were some sort of god, or monster. He moved in an atmosphere which wasn’t like theirs at all. They fed him and he ate, he washed himself, he walked in and out of their door; he certainly wasn’t nasty or unpleasant or rude, Sonny isn’t any of those things; but it was as though he were all wrapped up in some cloud, some fire, some vision all his own; and there wasn’t any way to reach him.