My Top 20 Short StoriesHaving spent so long working on short stories I thought I’d draw up a list of my top twenty. My main criterion for choosing these was that they’re stories that have anchored themselves in my mind after one reading and have stayed there for decades. I think that says something about the power of the well-executed short story, an art form that seems to be less and less in demand these days. They’re not in any order of preference, just the order they came to mind. 1.The Monkey’s Paw – WW Jacobs. The classic ‘be careful what you wish for’ story. The climax, with the horribly mutilated son, risen from his grave, knocking at his parents’ door to be let in – unforgettable. 2. Green Fingers – RC Cook I read this in a cheap anthology when I was young and it’s stayed with me ever since. 3. The Innocent – Graham Greene Hugely profound and a brilliant double twist ending. 4. A Circle in the Fire – Flannery O’Connor A great example of O’Connor’s tense, bleak Southern Gothic. 5. Bonobo Momma – JC Oates The first JCO story I ever read. I didn’t need to read any more to know I was in the presence of greatness… 6. A Small, Good Thing – Raymond Carver I resisted Carver’s ugly prose for a long time and then read ‘Short Cuts’ and was mesmerized. Read the longer version of this story – all of human life is in it. 7. The Grasshopper – Anton Chekhov A heartbreaker from the master. ‘He did not spare himself, and others did not spare him…’ 8. Misery – Anton Chekhov A story that packs an enormous punch in its handful of pages. Who said, ‘No man is an island unto himself…?’ 9. Don’t Look Now – Daphne du Maurier Incredibly original story that was adapted into Nicolas Roeg’s unforgettable film. John’s premonition of his own funeral is a spine-tingling touch. 10. Battleground – Stephen King For those who still don’t take SK seriously they should read this pitch perfect little gem. 11. The Jaunt – Stephen King Again, SK at his best. I always think of this story on the flight from Australia to Europe… 12. A Sound of Thunder – Ray Bradbury A legend among short stories. The ending leaves you with an almost claustrophobic sense of panic – is it too late to go back and change the past? 13. Man Overboard – Sir Winston Churchill There wasn’t much Winnie couldn’t do. The horror of this scenario makes the blood run cold and the ending is wonderfully ambiguous. 14. A Windmill in the West – Peter Carey The desert setting and the absurdity of the Camus-style ending lodged this story deep in my psyche. 15. An Affair of Honour – Vladimir Nabokov The greatest of prose stylists was never really at home with the short story, but this one works brilliantly, and like so much of Nabokov, is LOL funny. 16. The Forged Coupon – Leo Tolstoy Earnest and fanciful I know, but sometimes it’s good to think there’s some hope out there. 17. Vendetta – Guy de Maupassant A classic tale of the underdog’s revenge (no pun intended). Sic him, Semillante! 18. The Hand – Guy de Maupassant I loved this story so much I wrote a radio adaptation of it. I also liked the Michael Caine movie version. 19. Weekend – Fay Weldon A feminist tour-de-force and excoriating social satire. 20. The Killers – Charles Bukowski Brutally, unflinchingly honest. A hard read but once read never forgotten. This is CB saying, ‘This is how it is. This is what we are. This is what we do.’
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