Best American short story ever

I’m teaching a seminar in the American short story in the fall, and I’ve got the syllabus all planned out. (I’ve got too many short stories on it now, and will probably have to pare my syllabus down a bit). But I just read an anthology called “You’ve Got to Read This” (or something like that) in which authors nominate their favorite short stories and write a few paragraphs on their reasons for nominating that story, so I thought I’d ask you all if you’d like to give me your choices.`

My own nominee would probably be “Natica Jackson” by John O’Hara, a story that I love to watch people read since there’s a moment about halfway through that’s so shocking (and yet thoroughly believable) that people often gasp while reading it. “Natica Jackson” is set in Hollywood of the 1930s, and concerns an actress, but focusses on the non-celebrity side of her life, as she undertakes a secret love affair with a married guy who’s not in show business. O’Hara explicates some differences between the worlds of celebrities and non-celebs, and achieves the very difficult task of portraying rich and famous people in terms that make us empathize with them. He also brilliantly gives us rare insight into the workings of minor characters’ minds–agents, screenwriters, and especially the psychotic woman who provides that GASP moment at the story’s climax.

I’m partial to some of the “standards” - and all of these struck me in some way, when I read them, so couldn’t call any one of them the “best,” but here’s my short list:

  • To Build a Fire; Jack London
  • The Cask of Amontillado (sp?); A. E. Poe
  • Harrison Bergeron; K. Vonnegut

I’ve got roughly 20 editions from the Best American Short Stories of (whatever year). It’s one of my favorite genres. I’d be hard-pressed to be an editor. Too much great stuff to choose from.

Anything by Poe! He’s a master…

A few that stayed with me were:
An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge - Ambrose Pierce
*The Rocking-Horse Winner * - DH Lawrence
*The Necklace * - Guy de Maupassant

I’m still a huge fan of “The Lottery”, by Shirley Jackson. Actually, all of her short stories are really, really good, but I read that one when I was young and it sticks with me.

I have come classics:

The Short Happy Life of Francis Macomber - by Hemingway. Hands down the best written, grab you by the throat short story I have ever read. Has the plot-twisty end of a Lottery or Poe, with the taught character sketches Hemingway was best at. Nothing really comes close.

Winter Dreams - by Fitzgerald. Written as part of the “Gatsby Cluster” - where he worked out characters and themes using short stories before including them in the book he was working on, in this case The Great Gatsby (and aren’t we all glad he didn’t name it “Trimalchio in West Egg” as he wanted?). Wonderful, elegiac story about a Midwestern boy trying to achieve the American Dream and get the girl. Beautifully, beautifully written.

The White Quail - by Steinbeck. Another plot-twisty one. Insightful into the human condition and relationships. A better-written story than Steinbeck normally does - I think of him as a relatively okay-at-best writer who has deep insight in plot and character much more than the technical act of writing…

My $.02

A great collection worth looking at is Best of the South. There’s something about these stories…I remember A Hank of Hair, A Piece of Bone by Lewis Nordan as being an excellent story. However, it’s been a while. Now I’m gonna have to re-read this collection.

Yep, that’s my favorite. And so many Ray Bradbury stories I don’t think I can choose one, but just for the heck of it, let’s say The Foghorn.

I just read The Monkey’s Paw by WW Jacobs for the first time and was quite impressed with it.

It’s Ambrose Bierce.

And I second the nomination.

I’d also nominate Wings out of Shadow. I don’t remember who wrote it, but the story is set in Fred Saberhagen’s Berserker universe, and is contained in an collection of related short stories. It’s got a nice little twist at the end, fairly foreshadowed and foreseeable by fans of WWI aviation…

Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge.

A Rose for Emily.

Anything by Flannery O’Connor, although my high school English teacher neighbor assigned “A Good Man is Hard to Find”.

Flannery O’Connor…how FREEKIN’ 'bout it?

Off to our forum for the arts.

Moved from IMHO to CS.

For a short-short story, I have to go with “The Ones Who Walk Away From Omelas”, by Ursula Le Guin. I read it in college for a philosophy course, and it haunted me for years. I stumbled on it a couple of years back on the web, and read it in a completely different way, but no less haunting. Fantastic story, and an excellent example of what can be accomplished in only a few hundred words.

The Last Question or Nightfall by Isaac Asimov

Or Flowers for Algernon I forget the author

I’ll second Asimov’s Nightfall.

Some of my favorites (some mentioned before):

“A Perfect Day for Bananafish” – J. D. Salenger
“Lost in the Funhouse” – John Barth (Bonus: it’s also a great guide to writing fiction).
“A Good Man is Hard to Find” – Flannery O’Connor
“I Have No Mouth and I Must Scream” – Harlan Ellison
“Tell the Women We’re Going” – Raymond Carver
“Bartleby the Scrivener” – Herman Mellville
“The Hands of Mr. Ottermole” – by Thomas Burke (one of the best mystery stories ever; the opening section is the best exercise in suspense ever to appear in print)
“The Game of Rat and Dragon” – Cordwainer Smith
“It” – Theodore Sturgeon (best horror story)
“The Rats in the Walls” – H.P. Lovecraft
“The Black Cat” or “The Tell-Tale Heart” – E. A. Poe
“The Last Flight of Dr. Ain” – James Tiptree, Jr.

And while I have a fondness for “An Occurance at Owl Creek Bridge” (it got me mentioned in Dozois’s Year’s Best SF, the story is more important historically and doesn’t read all that well today (especially since everyone knows the ending).

I haven’t read a great variety of short stories, but almost every one I’ve read by Sherman Alexie has been amazing. Do check him out if you haven’t ever.

For those of you from Chicago, Stuart Dybeck’s Blight is a wonderful read. This (and other) stories have Chicago written all over 'em.

Some more modern stories not already mentioned:

“The Shawl,” by Cynthia Ozick

“The Things They Carried,” by Tim O’Brien

“Sunny’s Blues,” by James Baldwin

“The Babysitter,” Donald Barthelme

“Goodbye, Columbus,” by Philip Roth

:smack: And I somehow missed in the OP the You’ve GOT to Read This reference. Yes! Just teach this book! You know how many of the stories mentioned are in here? You don’t really need this thread.