December 2016 favorites


December 2016

The December stories ordered solely on my personal tastes.

  1. ‘The Final Problem’ by Arthur Conan Doyle
  2. ‘A Worn Path’ by Eudora Welty
  3. ‘Domestic Life In America’ by John Updike
  4. ‘O Tannenbaum’ by Maile Meloy
  5. ‘Ben’ by Kay Boyle
  6. ‘The Poor Relation’s Story’ by Charles Dickens
  7. ‘The Christmas Masquerade’ by Mary Wilkins Freeman
  8. ‘The Centerpiece’ by Peter Matthiessen
  9. ‘Merry Christmas’ by Stephen Leacock
  10. ‘Bertie’s Christmas Eve’ by Saki
  11. ‘Jesu, Joy Of Man’s Desire’ by Michael Tournier
  12. ‘The Christmas Story’ by Vladimir Nabokov
  13. ‘Christmas; Or, The Good Fairy’ by Harriet Beecher Stowe
  14. ‘Grandmother’s Christmas Story’ by Faith Wynne
  15. ‘The World In A Bowl Of Soup: A Christmas Story” by Annie Dillard

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

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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

‘Nothing Ever Breaks Except The Heart’ by Kay Boyle

Boyle, Kay 1941a

Nothing Ever Breaks Except The Heart by Kay Boyle, 1941

The magic trick:

A perfect title

In all honesty, you really don’t need to read this story. It’s all there in the title. What a beautiful turn of phrase. I love it. Nothing ever breaks except the heart. People can withstand a lot. They can take on stress and responsibility and keep on fighting through the strain. But it’s the emotional side of life, the heartbreak, that will stop you in your tracks. Conversely, life and all that stress and heartache sometimes doesn’t seem to ever break in a positive direction. The stress never breaks; it is the hopes and dreams and loves of people that are forced to compromise.

All of that conveyed in a six-word title! And that’s quite a trick on Boyle’s part.

The selection:

Mr. Concachina was native, and his head was bald, and his mind was going. “I’m just now speaking four different languages at the same time to five different parties, Mr. McCloskey,” he said, and there was sweat on his forehead. “I tell you, I can’t do it much longer. I’m at the breaking point.”

“You’ve been saying that for a year and a half,” said Mr. McCloskey. He was looking among the other papers for the typewritten list of names. “But nothing ever breaks,” and he held the list in one hand while he said “Hello there” into one of the three telephones.

August 2014 favorites


August 2014

The August stories ordered solely on my personal tastes.

  1. ‘Bright And Morning Star’ by Richard Wright
  2. ‘Symbols And Signs’ by Vladimir Nabokov
  3. ‘The Chrysanthemums’ by John Steinbeck
  4. ‘Free Fruit For Young Widows’ by Nathan Englander
  5. ‘The School’ by Donald Barthelme
  6. ‘The Night The Bed Fell’ by James Thurber
  7. ‘My First Goose’ by Isaac Babel
  8. ‘The Wood Duck’ by James Thurber
  9. ‘The Secret Life Of Walter Mitty’ by James Thurber
  10. ‘The Fireman’s Wife’ by Richard Bausch
  11. ‘The Killers’ by Ernest Hemingway
  12. ‘In The Penal Colony’ by Franz Kafka
  13. ‘He’ by Katherine Anne Porter
  14. ‘The Rich Brother’ by Tobias Wolff
  15. ‘Lovers Of The Lake’ by Sean O’Faolain
  16. ‘First Love’ by Vladimir Nabokov
  17. ‘The Mysterious Kor’ by Elizabeth Bowen
  18. ‘Thirst’ by Ivo Andric
  19. ‘In Another Country’ by Ernest Hemingway
  20. ‘The Iron City’ by Lovell Thompson
  21. ‘Dusky Ruth’ by A.E. Coppard
  22. ‘The Odour Of Chrysanthemums’ by D.H. Lawrence
  23. ‘The Door’ by E.B. White
  24. ‘The Camberwell Beauty’ by V.S. Pritchett
  25. ‘The Fly’ by Katherine Mansfield
  26. ‘Christ In Concrete’ by Pietro di Donato
  27. ‘American Express’ by James Salter
  28. ‘The Piano’ by Anibal Monteiro Machado
  29. ‘The Greatest Man In The World’ by James Thurber
  30. ‘Men’ by Kay Boyle
  31. ‘A Couple Of Hamburgers’ by James Thurber

‘Men’ by Kay Boyle

Boyle, Kay 1941

Men by Kay Boyle, 1941

The magic trick:

The use of the house as representing the soldiers dreams of home

We have a very simple magic trick today. I like it, though. The prisoners in the story are forced to build a railroad all day everyday. Their progress brings them closer to a small house near the rail line, and they each adore looking at it. The house becomes a symbol of their pasts, their families, and their longing to go back to their homes.

Boyle doesn’t get fancy with this symbol. It’s not even written as a symbol for the reader to interpret. The characters, within the story, recognize the house as a symbol. No analysis needed. Many critics praise writing that gives the reader room for analysis and interpretation. I’ve heaped such praise on authors myself on this very website (see recent example, “The Chrysanthemums”). “Men” reminds us, though, that the reader isn’t the only smart guy in the room. Sometimes symbolism can work on a whole different level when the characters in the story identify their own symbols. And that’s quite a trick on Boyle’s part.

The selection:

But if the Baron looked now and again at the mountain, the other men had had enough of scenery: it was the house they liked to look toward down the road. The seven months they had spent in internment had altered their eyesight for them so that the little house appeared singularly sweet and touching to them; it had a homely, nearly familiar look to them all as if they had seen it somewhere before in another country.