CBC Short Story Prize
12 Canadian writers share their favourite short stories
Always on the lookout for a great new read? Us too!
We asked this year's CBC Short Story Prize readers to share with us some of their favourite short stories. Below you will find a list of engaging reads by both great legends and skilled contemporaries (and where possible we've linked to the stories that are available online).
What are your favourite short stories? Leave your suggestions in the comments section below.
I've probably read Alice Munro's "Miles City, Montana" more times than any other story, in a studied way: the construction is perfect.
I love stories with elliptical, lyrical, sad, resonant endings. This list includes Richard Ford’s “Great Falls”, Tobias Wolff’s “Bullet in the Brain”, and Aimee Bender’s “The Rememberer”, among others. The writer Dan McCall used to tell his students to always think about what the reader will feel “in the white,” by which he meant the white space below the text on the last page. I live for that moment, that breath before you close the book. One time I read aloud to my first-year students the ending of Amy Hempel’s “The Cemetery Where Al Jolson Is Buried” and my eyes started tearing!
“The Dead” by James Joyce. True greatness. A never-ending source of inspiration for me as a writer.
I don’t know that I can pick just one, but I did learn a lot from reading Jessica Grant’s Journey prize winner, “My Husband’s Jump.” The “story” of the story is about a woman’s husband: an Olympic skier who hit a jump and never landed, and she’s left to wonder what happened, and think about the man himself, the future they could have had, the validity of the rumours in the media he’d been stepping out on her. The idea of a very human story is old news, but the idea of a very human story having a very, very unique scenario helps individualize a story and make it stand out. So this story blew me away. She has a way of not letting her wacky story overwhelm the humanity of her work. As a result, the reader gets both an original story—engaging because we’ve never read it before—and a very human one.
“The Immaculate Conception Photo Gallery” by Katherine Govier, written in 1994. Set in Toronto, the story teases the question of what photographs say about ourselves and our familial relationships (ed. note: this story won Third Prize in the 1988 CBC Short Story Prize competition).
"Diary of a Madman" by Nikolai Gogol. Because it’s funny and terribly sad and disturbing at the same time, and he had such a light touch. I appreciate writing that seems effortless. You can always spot what I call “effortful” writing—it’s laboured and painful to read.
There's way too many! But I do admire the alchemy of Sherman Alexie (especially in “The Sin Eaters”), Miranda July's entire collection, No One Belongs Here More Than You, inspires me even just looking at it, and everything in the new zombie anthology Dead North: Canadian Zombie Fiction. It's just so awful and brilliant! Lisa Bird-Wilson astonished me with her first collection, Just Pretending, and Annelies Pool's Iceberg Tea makes me ache with homesickness for the NWT.
It's very hard to choose only one! But if I must... a story I read recently that I found powerful and exciting is "Team Leader 2040" by Quebec writer Catherine Austen, in the anthology Tesseracts Seventeen: Speculating Canada from Coast to Coast to Coast. It's a subtly constructed story that on the surface is about the experience of a live-action video game-type battle, but that slowly reveals unexpected layers of emotional complexity. The statement it makes about how social power works—and how abuses occur in society when we let them—is strongly thought-provoking. It is simultaneously beautifully crafted and highly engaged.
Oh, that’s so hard to say—it really depends on the day, the mood, what I’ve read lately, what I’ve written lately or wish I’d written lately. Today, I’d say “The Third and Final Continent” by Jhumpa Lahiri. I ended up buying her collection by the same name, but I first encountered the story solo, in the June 21/28 1999 New Yorker, which is what I just grabbed to check the spelling of her name. It’s a very long, straightforward story, or seemingly straightforward, and seemingly long—flipping the pages now, I see it’s shorter than I recalled. That’s what a good story will do, I guess—make you feel you’ve come through something big and profound, very quickly.
One of my favourite stories is Saskatchewan writer Gloria Sawai’s “The Day I Sat with Jesus on the Sundeck and the Wind Came Up and Blew my Kimono Open and He Saw My Breasts.” Yes, that’s the full title. The story tells of a housewife in suburban Saskatoon who meets Jesus in the backyard and has a chat. I love the mix of fantasy and reality and how dream-like sequences interrupt the seemingly banal. Sawai isn’t crassly mocking organized religion but rather presenting a unique spiritual experience that is curiously entrenched in the physical. The story is really funny too.
The one that comes to mind right now is Daniel Orozco's “Officers Weep,” from his 2011 collection Orientation. It's a love story about two cops, but told in the form of a police blotter that slowly becomes less and less professional. There's always a risk of gimmickry with stories like this, but Orozco is operating on a whole different level from us mortals. It's marvelous.
Hemingway's "Up in Michigan". From a 1921 perspective—and even considering the revision in the late 1930's—this is a stark, real, unstinting look at the agony and the pity of heterosexual relationships. For some reason it has stayed with me for all the forty-odd years it has been since I first read it, and through re-readings over the years it stands up as a true statement of how men and women think and act.
What are your favourite short stories?
Leave them in the comments section below.