April 2021 favorites

April 2021

The April stories ordered solely on my personal tastes.

  1. ‘The Mother’ by Natalia Ginzburg
  2. ‘A Lodging For The Night’ by Robert Louis Stevenson
  3. ‘A Day In The Country’ by Dan Jacobson
  4. ‘The House Of The Famous Poet’ by Muriel Spark
  5. ‘The Clearing’ by Luisa Mercedes Levinson
  6. ‘The Life Of The Imagination’ by Nadine Gordimer
  7. ‘Doctors’ by Anneliese Mackintosh
  8. ‘Tony Takitani’ by Haruki Murakami
  9. ‘The Pet’ by Nadine Gordimer
  10. ‘The Tiger Of The Plains’ by Domingo Faustino Sarmiento
  11. ‘Crabs’ by Haruki Murakami
  12. ‘The Rise And Fall Of Sharpie Cakes’ by Haruki Murakami
  13. ‘Night Calls’ by Lisa Fugard
  14. ‘As You Would Have Told It To Me (Sort Of) If We Had Known Each Other Before You Died’ by Jonas Hassen Khemiri
  15. ‘The Shinagawa Monkey’ by Haruki Murakami
  16. ‘The Yellow Paint’ by Robert Louis Stevenson
  17. ‘How To Travel With A Salmon’ by Umberto Eco
  18. ‘He Who Listens May Hear – To His Regret: Confidence Of A Confidence’ by Juana Manuela Gorriti
  19. ‘The Stump-Grubber’ by Torgny Lindgren
  20. ‘The Little Green Monster’ by Haruki Murakami
  21. ‘A Leading Role’ by Tove Jansson
  22. ‘The Braider’ by Ricardo Güiraldes

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

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June 2018 favorites

June 2018

The June stories ordered solely on my personal tastes.

  1. ‘Bartleby, The Scrivener’ by Herman Melville
  2. ‘God Sees The Truth, But Waits’ by Leo Tolstoy
  3. ‘The Ingrate’ by Paul Laurence Dunbar
  4. ‘The Lady, Or The Tiger?’ by Frank Stockton
  5. ‘Dr. Heidegger’s Experiment’ by Nathaniel Hawthorne
  6. ‘The Three Hermits’ by Leo Tolstoy
  7. ‘Jupiter Doke, Brigadier General’ by Ambrose Bierce
  8. ‘One Wicked Impulse!’ by Walt Whitman
  9. ‘Wisdom Of Children’ by Leo Tolstoy
  10. ‘The Angel Of The Odd’ by Edgar Allan Poe
  11. ‘The Sire de Maletroit’s Door’ by Robert Louis Stevenson
  12. ‘The Two Brothers And The Gold’ by Leo Tolstoy
  13. ‘The Dream Of A Ridiculous Man’ by Fyodor Dostoyevsky
  14. ‘The Prize Lodger’ by George Gissing
  15. ‘The Coffee-House Of Surat’ by Leo Tolstoy

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.

December 2014 favorites


December 2014

The December stories organized solely by my personal tastes.

  1. ‘Jeeves And The Yule-Tide Spirit’ by P.G. Wodehouse
  2. ‘The H Street Sledding Record’ by Ron Carlson
  3. ‘A Christmas Memory’ by Truman Capote
  4. ‘A Christmas Tree And A Wedding’ by Fyodor Dostoyevsky
  5. ‘The Adventure Of The Blue Carbuncle’ by Arthur Conan Doyle
  6. ‘Christmas At Red Butte’ by Lucy Maud Montgomery
  7. ‘Christmas Eve’ by Maeve Brennan
  8. ‘One Christmas Eve’ by Langston Hughes
  9. ‘The Gift Of The Magi’ by O. Henry
  10. ‘Powder’ by Tobias Wolff
  11. ‘The Ledge’ by Lawrence Sargent Hall
  12. ‘A Child’s Christmas In Wales’ by Dylan Thomas
  13. ‘The Adventure Of The Christmas Pudding’ by Agatha Christie
  14. ‘The Christmas Wreck’ by Frank Stockton
  15. ‘At Christmas Time’ by Anton Chekhov
  16. ‘Christmas Day In The Morning’ by Pearl S. Buck
  17. ‘The Little Match Girl’ by Hans Christian Andersen
  18. ‘Markheim’ by Robert Louis Stevenson
  19. ‘Christmas Is A Sad Season For The Poor’ by John Cheever
  20. ‘The Burglar’s Christmas’ by Willa Cather
  21. ‘Papa Panov’s Special Christmas’ by Leo Tolstoy
  22. ‘The Beggar Boy At Christ’s Christmas Tree’ by Fyodor Dostoyevsky
  23. ‘A New Year’s Gift’ by Guy de Maupassant
  24. ‘The Christmas Banquet’ by Nathaniel Hawthorne
  25. ‘The Best Christmas Ever’ by James Patrick Kelly
  26. ‘Christmas Eve’ by Guy de Maupassant

‘Markheim’ by Robert Louis Stevenson

Stevenson, Robert Louis 1885

Markheim by Robert Louis Stevenson, 1885

The magic trick:

Filling the story with absurdly ornate sentences

Leave it to R.L. Stevenson to spoil a perfectly good Christmas premise by going on and on about the dual nature of man’s being. That is kind of his pet topic after all.

In “Markheim” we meet a murderer who has assured himself of spiritual approval but lives in terror of earthly judgment. He knows his acts are vile but trusts in the goodness of his soul within. Some kind of Christmas ghost (his conscience perhaps? the devil?) visits him and straightens him out.

The philosophical questions raised are interesting, and the man’s journey toward what is, surprisingly, a happy ending is fascinating. Those are not maybe the most original of ideas, though. No, what makes this story stand out – and what often draws me to Stevenson’s writing – is the remarkable quality of the prose. Stevenson writes with a certain elegant complication that I just love. One could accuse him of over-writing. The sentences often are so ornate as to be overbearing. But I love it. Certain paragraphs here could be excised from the story to exist as standalone poems. The writing is that lush. And that’s quite a trick on Stevenson’s part.

The selection:

The faint, foggy daylight glimmered dimly on the bare floor and stairs; on the bright suit of armor posted, halbert in hand, upon the landing; and on the dark wood carvings and framed pictures that hung against the yellow panels of the wainscot. So loud was the beating of the rain through all the house that, in Markheim’s ears, it began to be distinguished into many different sounds. Footsteps and sighs, the tread of regiments marching in the distance, the chink of money in the counting, and the creaking of doors held stealthily ajar, appeared to mingle with the patter of the drops upon the cupola and the gushing of the water in the pipes. The sense that he was not alone grew upon him to the verge of madness. On every side he was haunted and begirt by presences.


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

‘The Body Snatcher’ by Robert Louis Stevenson

Stevenson, Robert Louis 1884

The Body Snatcher by Robert Louis Stevenson, 1884

The magic trick:

The introductory section sends the readers imagination running into thoughts possibly even scarier than the story that follows

The framing device Stevenson uses here is quite common to British literature of the 19th century. A group of people gather for a normal night somewhere – in the case of “The Body Snatcher” that somewhere is local parlor – and a member of the group invariably winds up telling an old tale from his past. That old tale, in essence, is the short story.

Sometimes such a story-before-the-story seems cumbersome. It merely delays the plot for no good reason. Most times, of course, the author has a master plan in mind and thus the outer story does something special to cast the inner story in a new light.

In “The Body Snatcher,” Stevenson uses the outer story to generate an ominous tone and plenty of suspense before the inner story even begins. The reader sees, with the other men in the parlor, the effect the doctor’s mere name has on Fettes, and instantly starts to imagine a set of terrifying possibilities to explain the mystery. Stevenson has made his job infinitely easier. The inner story doesn’t have to any work; the reader has already scared himself with his own concocted backstories about Fettes and the doctor. With the tone set, the inner story need only supply the details. And that’s quite a trick on Stevenson’s part.

The selection:

“What is his name?”

“Doctor Macfarlane,” said the landlord.

Fettes was far through his third tumbler, stupidly fuddled, now nodding over, now staring mazily around him; but at the last word he seemed to awaken, and repeated the name “Macfarlane” twice, quietly enough the first time, but with sudden emotion at the second.

“Yes,” said the landlord, “that’s his name, Doctor Wolfe Macfarlane.”

Fettes became instantly sober; his eyes awoke, his voice became clear, loud, and steady, his language forcible and earnest. We were all startled by the transformation, as if a man had risen from the dead.