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.
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.
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!