The Reading Life: Macabre Short Story Collections

I love short stories. They are the perfect vehicle, in my opinion, for horror fiction; macabre tales encapsulated into little nuggets of terror. Short stories are a great choice for people who don’t have a lot of time for sustained reading. You can read one or two short stories in a relatively short period of time, and you don’t necessarily have to read the entire collection, ever.

A good short story, to me, is like a snapshot. You see what you see, some stuff is in the background, and a great deal of the world in which the story takes place is hidden. It’s that mystery and closeness that fascinates me. Short stories are difficult to write because they are so contained. A novel gives an author space in which to expand and wax poetic, but a story that’s ten pages long doesn’t get that luxury. I think it’s harder to write a shorter piece than a longer piece, so I appreciate the restraint that most short story writers have.

This is not a definitive list of short story collections, just ones I keep around to visit once in a while. They are like old, weird friends.

Pretty Monsters by Kelly Link

This is a lovely, haunting, strange, creepy collection of stories aimed at young adults, but you should read them, too. Kelly Link writes stories about librarians, aliens, monsters, time travel, and ghosts. These will stay with you.

Skeleton Crew by Stephen King

Yeah, yeah, yeah, one day, I’ll shut up about Stephen King. Not yet, though. Skeleton Crew is one of my favorite King books. It contains one of the creepiest stories ever, “The Monkey,” which will change the way you look at those weird wind-up, cymbal-clapping toys. It also contains “The Raft,” which makes me even more afraid of lakes than I was before.

A Good Man is Hard to Find and Other Stories by Flannery O’Connor

Southern Gothic short stories? Yes, please. O’Connor’s stories are chilling, twisted, and macabre. First published in 1955, this is a wonderful place to start reading both Southern and short fiction.

The Stories of John Cheever

If you read one story in this collection, make it “The Enormous Radio,” a story about the dangers of listening in on your neighbors. You might have read it before; read it again. This is one of those enormous story collections where picking and choosing is highly advisable.

The Selected Stories of Patricia Highsmith

There are a ton of stories in here, and most of them are short. A lot of them are about unhappy housewives who go off the deep end. Whenever I read Highsmith, I feel like I should drink a bourbon and water and smoke some unfiltered Parliaments while I wait for my ad exec husband to come home to our Westchester apartment… so I can murder him. Highsmith does odd things to one’s brain.

The Lottery and Other Stories by Shirley Jackson

Want stories that are sort of creepy and mostly take place in 1940s New York City? I do. Jackson was a genius when it came to making her protagonists helpless, which is frustrating and wonderful. The story “Charles” gives me the chills every single time I read it, because it’s about how appearances differ from reality. These stories have the added bonus of being connected to each other, albeit loosely. (You could read them separately, too.)

What are your favorite spine-tingling tales? Let us know in the comments!


About Amanda K

Amanda K holds a master's degree in Library and Information Studies. She's a housewife, a Planned Parenthood volunteer, a sewist, and an aspiring gourmet home cook. View all posts by Amanda K

2 responses to “The Reading Life: Macabre Short Story Collections

  • Lacey D

    Awesome article! I’ll be sure to check for these the next time I’m at the bookstore.
    Macabre has always been my favorite genre. ALWAYS! As a kid, it was the only thing I’d read. The “Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark” books were amazing, creepily illustrated and scared the pants off of me for years. It’s more for small children, and the hardcover sells on Amazon for $5 new.
    Eric owns almost all 20 “Best New Horror” books. It’s the one title he’s found that consistently impresses him.
    As for King… “Different Seasons”. My favorite story in that book is actually the one that WASN’T made into a movie, The Breathing Method. . . So. Creepy.

  • Rob

    I used to like short sci fi stories because of my uncle leaving me bags of paperbacks. Now I prefer long novels because I can get more into the characters. Longer the better – perhaps why I love the unabridged version of The Stand. Ha.

    Here are two links to one story I remember reading in Playboy years ago. It remains one of my favorite short stories. (It was on SYFY’s site but since taken down.) It shows up in other collections of stories as well.

    First is the link I found it on and then from my site with art from the writer (in case you never heard of him).

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