8 Short Story Collections To Put on Your Summer Reading List

There's still plenty of summer left, and it's not too late to add these story collections to your reading lists. 

*****

Zolitude, by Paige Cooper 

About the book: Fantastical, magnetic, and harsh—these are the women in Paige Cooper’s debut short story collection Zolitude. They are women who built time machines when they were nine, who buy plane tickets for lovers who won’t arrive. They are sisters writhing with dreams, blasé about sex but beggared by love—while the police horses have talons and vengeance is wrought by eagles the size of airplanes. Broken-down motorbikes and housebroken tyrannosaurs, cheap cigarettes and mail bombs—Cooper finds the beautiful and the disturbing in both the surreal and the everyday.

Troubling, carnal, and haunting, these stories are otherworldly travelogues through banal, eco-fabulist dystopias. Zolitude is a gorgeous, sad, and sexy work of slipstream and an atlas of fantastic isolation. The monstrous is human here, and tender.

Why we're taking notice: From The Toronto Star, "...across fourteen stories Cooper builds strange, genre-defying, sci-fi- and fantasy-infused realities that are distinctly her own. Truly, they’re like nothing else you’ve read lately. Whether funny, erotic, puzzling, Mirror Universe-y, or claustrophobic, they’ll lodge in your memory."

Hider/Seeker, by Jen Currin

About the book: Hider/Seeker is the debut fiction collection from award-winning poet Jen Currin. These stories are about addiction and meditation, relationships and almost-relationships, solitude and sexuality. They take place in cafes, in snowy woods, on city street corners, and at Zen retreats—where conversations happen in the margins of books and filthy shoes are treated with reverence. Ex-wives reunite only to be confronted with their past; an aunt believes she has made a heart-breaking discovery about her niece; a seemingly never-ending hysterical pregnancy becomes the talk of a cafe. These stories are always unflinchingly honest in their portrayal of relationships - in particular the relationships of the book's LGBTQ+ characters—as they navigate spirituality, monogamy, and sex. Currin invites the reader into the complicated lives of her characters and invites them to stay.

Why we're taking notice: This is the fiction debut by Currin, whose poetry collections have been acclaimed and award-winning. 

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The Things She'll Be Leaving Behind, by Vanessa Farnsworth

About the book: The stories in Farnsworth’s The Things She’ll Be Leaving Behind explore what it means to be a woman in the modern world, struggling against circumstances that are often unfair, inexplicable, and destructive. The women in this book don’t always behave in ways that are sensible or advisable or, for that matter, likely to result in success, but there’s a warped logic to what they do and the reasons they do it are intrinsically human. These women have nothing in common except that they all find themselves trying to find their footings, preserve their sanity, and just generally survive in circumstances they never thought they would encounter. They don’t always do it gracefully. Occasionally alcohol or firearms are involved. Just like in real life.

The 28 stories in the collection vary in length, intensity and impact. The short pieces that fluctuate between flash fiction and apologue are interspersed with events where women explore how to pick up a man, with more surreal episodes that deconstruct office reality, or even experimenting with rainfall with God and the devil. The longer stories in The Things She’ll Be Leaving Behind stray into the deep and dark territories of women’s suffering, guilt, and survival. In these tales, anxiety, restlessness and volatility are tapped like raw nerves, and the dangers and menace of events only mitigated by Farnsworth’s savvy use of black comedy and irony. Here women go toe-to-toe with chronic liars, dead grandfathers, beleaguered sons, mysterious voices, unfaithful husbands, midnight callers, spiteful sisters, and hallucinated clowns. Husbands go crazy or wayward or missing. Life hits walls and somersaults and does breathless, tactless things. The end result is fascinating inventive fiction.

Why we're taking notice: From Quill & Quire, "[stories that]  remind us that the purpose of fiction is not always to entertain but occasionally to confound expectations, provoke discomfort, or probe the various folds of the unknown." 

*

That Tiny Life, by Erin Frances Fisher

About the book: In settings that range from the old American West to pre-revolutionary France, from a present-day dig site in the high tablelands of South America to deep space, That Tiny Life is a wide-ranging and utterly original collection of short fiction and a novella that examines the idea of progress—humanity’s never-ending cycle of creation and destruction.

In the award-winning story, “Valley Floor,” a surgeon performs an amputation in the open desert in the American West. In “Da Capo al Fine,” set in eighteenth-century France, the creator of the fortepiano designs another, more brutal instrument. And in “That Tiny Life,” the reader gets a glimpse into a future in which human resource extraction goes far beyond Earth. Each story is infused with impeccably researched detail that brings obscure and fascinating subject matter into bright relief, be it falconry, ancient funeral rites, or space exploration. The result is an amazing interplay of minute detail against the backdrop of huge themes, such as human expression and impact, our need for connection, the innate violence in nature, and the god-complex present in all acts of human creation.

A highly accomplished, evocative, and wholly impressive work of short fiction, That Tiny Life introduces readers to a writer with limitless range and imagination.

Why we're taking notice: This is the debut by Fisher, whose accolades include having won the Writers’ Trust of Canada RBC Bronwen Wallace Award for Emerging Writers. 

*

Blue River and Red Earth, by Stephen Henighan

About the book: These eleven short stories cover a wide range of territory—from Toronto to Cuba to Eastern Europe. And, wide-ranging over geography as they are, they also cover an array of characters and situations that can only be situated in the twenty-first century.

Why we're taking notice: From The Guelph Mercury, "These stories aim high. Largely, they achieve. With the collection's wide-ranging settings and Third-World references, though, the average Canadian reader may need to make web searches. I did. But, hey, learning new things is not a bad habit." 

Book Cover Things Are God Now

Things Are Good Now, by Djamilia Ibrahim

About the book: Set in East Africa, the Middle East, Canada, and the U.S., Things Are Good Now examines the weight of the migrant experience on the human psyche. In these pages, women, men, and children who’ve crossed continents in search of a better life find themselves struggling with the chaos of displacement and the religious and cultural clashes they face in their new homes. A maid who travelled to the Middle East lured by the prospect of a well-paying job is trapped in the Syrian war. A female ex-freedom fighter immigrates to Canada only to be relegated to cleaning public washrooms and hospital sheets. A disillusioned civil servant struggles to come to grips with his lover’s imminent departure. A young Muslim Canadian woman who’d married her way to California to escape her devout family’s demands realizes she’s made a mistake.

The collection is about remorse and the power of memory, about the hardships of a post-9/11 reality that labels many as suspicious or dangerous because of their names or skin colour alone, but it’s also about hope and friendship and the intricacies of human relationships. Most importantly, it’s about the compromises we make to belong.

Why we're taking notice: Among its many glowing reviews, The Globe and Mail calls Things Are Good Now "essential fiction for right now." 

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Crow Jazz, by Linda Rogers

About the book: A long awaited dazzling collection of short fiction from one of Canada's most accomplished poets.

These incandescent stories in Crow Jazz come from tree level, the corvid community, where sex and death are celebrated with mirth and compassion. They have clever crow energy, selecting beak sized twitter-bits from life on earth below, with an eye to the bigger picture. Highly inventive; children, families, crows, and the old, bewitch and astonish the imagination. Improvisation, syncopation; all the jazz words come into word play. “Mud Pies”, “The Child City,” “Darling Boy,” The Tea Party,” “Lucy Laughed,” “Elusive Beauty, Virginia Sat Down,” are a few of the 20-plus polished tales in Linda Roger’s quirky and clever short fiction collection. A wild breath of fresh air for literary Canada.

Why we're taking notice: From The Province, "the language is so marvellous, the imagery so vivid, the references so evocative, it’s worth the time and trouble to untangle the threads. This is a book that stays with you for days."

*

Tiger Tiger, by Johanna Skibsrud

About the book: Tiger, Tiger takes readers from the Paradise Valley Senior Centre parking lot all the way to Mars and examines the contradictions of life along the way. An astounding array of characters come up against the challenges of existence—both mundane and extraordinary—and their experiences never fail to surprise and delight.

A scientist finds the truth about love in a lab where he is learning to grow extinct tigers. A fake wedding at a nursing home brings a divorcée to the brink of despair while her grandmother marvels at the beauty around her. A small-town taxidermist realizes his fiancée is never returning--that he has lost her to an inscrutable ball of light. A soldier survives the bloody Battle of the Argonne Forest but loses the faith of his child. An uncanny teenager holds two hundred thousand years of the world's history in her mind but feels desperately alone.

Profound and paradoxical, these 14 stories bring us closer to the truth, even if we discover that it is ultimately unknowable. Masterfully crafted and astonishingly wise, Tiger, Tiger explores the limits of understanding, the future of humanity, and establishes Skibsrud as a rare and exceptional talent.

Why we're taking notice:  From Quill & Quire, "Skibsrud’s writing is a pleasure, with its shortish sentences, snappy prose, and mixture of formal speech and slang combining to create a recognizably 21st-century voice."

August 2, 2018
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