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Stunning Short Story Collections in 2020

By kileyturner
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With our attention so divided this year as we juggle ... everything ... a perfect story, over breakfast, at the coffee shop, or in a room hiding from our kids can make a day ever so much more rewarding.
We Two Alone

We Two Alone

edition:Paperback
also available: eBook

A masterful collection of stories that dramatizes the Chinese diaspora across the globe over the past hundred years, We Two Alone is Jack Wang’s astonishing debut work of fiction.

Set on five continents and spanning nearly a century, We Two Alone traces the long arc and evolution of the Chinese immigrant experience. A young laundry boy risks his life to play organized hockey in Canada in the 1920s. A Canadian couple gets caught in the outbreak of violence in Shanghai during the Second Sino-Japa …

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Excerpt

From “The Night of Broken Glass”
A finalist for the 2014 Commonwealth Short Story Prize, whose jury included Booker Prize winner Marlon James
Published in Let’s Tell This Story Properly: An Anthology of the Commonwealth Short Story Prize
Nominated by the New Quarterly for a 2016 National Magazine Award
I met my mother for the first time when I was six. I say “mother” because that was what I was expected to call her, and did, though in fact she was my stepmother. My real mother died of tuberculosis when I was five. A year later my father came home with a new wife. He had been studying international law in Chicago despite already having a Ph.D. in political economics from the University of Munich. While he was gone I received a series of brightly coloured linen postcards of the World’s Fair: the Hall of Science, the Avenue of Flags, the iron lattice towers of the Sky Ride. The theme of the fair was A Century of Progress. That’s where my father met Grace.
It was a windless, thick-aired summer day in Changsha when a motorcar saddled with steamer trucks pulled up in front of our house and a woman in a white blouse, wide-legged trousers, and large round sunglasses climbed out. She was beautiful, which made me sad for my mother and scornful of my father, and she looked too fair to be Chinese. As it turned out, she was half Chinese, born of a Chinese father and a German-American mother. That, along with her clothes and her beauty, made her unlike any woman I had ever seen. My father had secured a large two-storey house on the outskirts of town and staffed it with half a dozen servants, all in an effort to make his new wife comfortable, but as soon as they arrived he was stricken by all he had not foreseen. The house had no running water, and despite the need Grace refused to use the privy, which had no seat and emitted at that time of year an audible drone. After pleading with Grace in hushed tones, my father ordered Old Chao into town for a portable commode, a trip of at least three hours. For the rest of the afternoon my new mother paced the courtyard, smoking one Lucky after another, which made her seem feral and caged.
[…]
Needless to say, Grace was unhappy in China. Though my father had no particular desire to leave, he began to eye the foreign service. When the Governor for whom he worked recommended the post of First Secretary in the Chinese legation in Austria, my father accepted for Grace’s sake. We arrived in Vienna in June of my tenth year, after a three-week voyage on the Conte Verde through Saigon, Singapore, Madras, Bombay, Aden, and Port Said, and at first everything did seem better. The city was glorious with summer, and everywhere open air orchestras paid homage to the old masters, which made our lives seem set to music. Many nights my parents put on tails and gown and went to balls and receptions, living at last the life for which they were meant.
But it wasn’t long before Grace again felt stranded. She could no more distinguish der, die, and das than she could first and second tones. Then, in the spring, German troops goose-stepped through the Ringstrasse, just blocks away from our townhouse. The crowds that greeted them were lusty, adoring, as was I, my schoolboy fantasies of soldiers and guns come to life. My father did not raise his arm but he didn’t stop me from raising mine. That night, in a scene that would soon become commonplace, hoodlums took to the streets, smashing the windows of certain homes and shops. Thereafter, walking to and from school, I passed storefronts marked Jude and Nicht arisches Geschaeft and blocked by baby-faced men in jackboots and flared helmets. As a visible foreigner and part of the diplomatic corps, my father felt undeterred and often went into these stores despite the piercing glares — and once, an arm held stiffly against his chest. For my mother, annexation was yet another rung of descent in a private tragedy. She chided my father for bringing her to a Nazi-occupied country. His answer: Better the Germans than the Japanese.
At the end of October, thousands of Polish-born Jews were rounded up and sent back to Poland. When a seventeen-year-old boy learned that his family was among those languishing at the border, unwanted by either side, he walked into the German Embassy in Paris and pumped five bullets into the viscera of a minor German diplomat. Two days later, Ernst vom Rath died of his wounds. The seething of the Germans, checked so long as their countryman clung to life, would now be unleashed. This was what my father knew when he came home that afternoon.

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The Crooked Thing

The Crooked Thing

Stories
edition:Paperback

The English poet, William Blake said, "joy and woe are woven fine." So it is in The Crooked Thing. A collection of intense and emotional stories, there are traumas and betrayals, loves and losses, missed opportunities and discoveries, and above all, hope. In tales delicate and steely, a troubled young ferryman finds himself with an unexpected passenger, a songbird finds its voice, a mother learns to let go of her son and, after a chance encounter, an aging ballerina dances again. In her debut st …

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Cascade

Cascade

edition:Hardcover

From the bestselling author of The Saturday Night Ghost Club and Canada Reads-finalist Precious Cargo comes this supremely satisfying collection of stories.

Reminiscent of Stephen King's brilliantly cinematic short stories that went on to inspire films such as The Shawshank Redemption and Stand by Me, here's a collection crackling with Craig Davidson's superb craft and kinetic energy: in the visceral, crystalline, steel-tipped prose; in the psychological perspicacity; and in the endearing humour. …

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Excerpt

Stars. Fractured star-sprays and burning constellations . . . galaxies radiating like spokes on a wheel, their epicentres—the suns—dancing pinpricks of kaleidoscopic brightness.

Then: Black.
 
The steady trickle of salt water dripping in a sea-cave. Lurking behind it: the hiss of a serpent sidewinding over wet rocks.
 
“Uh . . . hwwwuuugnnh . . .”
 
. . . you were born into dread, my son . . .
 
A fairytale giant has collected my blood in a glass globe he wears strung round his neck. The giant laughs, his paving-stone teeth flashing, as I beg for my blood back . . .
 
A sudden, buzzing pinworm of pain corkscrews through me. The wire cools. It is someone else’s pain now. I’m only holding onto it. Far off, the giant is still laughing.
 
Blink.
 
Snap to with a snort.
 
I’m suspended upside down, belted into the passenger seat of our car. A Volvo: boxy, brooding, Swedish. Snow is piled against the windshield; cold granules of sunlight petal through the shattered glass. Gravity pulls my knee-caps down; my feet are wedged beneath the glovebox and my wrists bent back against the roof upholstery.
 
“Dan . . .”
 
The airframe sparkles with powder from the deployed airbags. The Volvo has an embarrassment of them—a  number that struck me as farcical in the austere showroom. Now the interior is draped with deflated alien spore-bags, satiny-white, and my lips are caked with xenomorph eggs. There’s an acid burn in my sinuses—did I throw up? No: that’s antifreeze. I’ve been at enough accident scenes to recognize the smell. It must be trickling through the vents with its greasy, burnt-animal stink.
 
I try turning my head—a wire buzzes with such intensity that it shocks a strangled scream out of me. In the rearview I catch sight of something inverted in the backseat like a little hangman. A pocket-sized executioner with a white hood over his face. A cold lunar silence weeps from the driver’s side. I can think of no good reason to look directly at that ghastly quiet next to me—Why, when it would be so easy? a sharp-toothed voice urges. Just turn your head a smidge and . . .
When I move my left arm, the pain is mammoth. I reach cross-body with my right hand to unlock the seatbelt. My fingers are senseless pegs riveted to my palm. I thumb the button but nothing happens. The lock’s jammed.
 
The hangman in the backseat emits a consumptive snuffling like a Pekinese with a sinus problem. He broods back there—in every un-noosed neck he sees an opportunity lost.
The belt is cinched tight across my shoulder. My entire body feels like it’s resting on one fragile joint. There’s a Leatherman in the glovebox. I try to heel off my boot before realizing it’s already gone: both boots must’ve been flung off in the . . . my knee brushes the stereo knob and the cab fills with the insane screech of the Doodlebops, their helium voices turning cat-yowly before cutting out.
 
With one big toe, I pop the latch. The glovebox jars open, spilling oil-change receipts and the Leatherman, which strikes my incisors and floods my mouth with the taste of rolled nickels. I retrieve it from the roof and fumble the blade open. Blood pools in my skull; the pressure must be turning my face as red as skinned meat.
 
It’s taxing work cutting through the belt. The wire buzzes hotly until the severed strap hisses through the belt’s eyelet. I complete a graceless backwards somersault and in that frictionless second, my head swivels to force a confrontation with the scene I’ve been avoiding.
 
Ahhhh, breathes the sharp-toothed one. Isn’t that a treat.
 
A tree limb is spiked through the Volvo’s windshield; the safety glass is crumbled around the hole it made entering our world. The branch pierced the driver’s-side airbag—shreds of white ballistic nylon still cling to its bark—before carrying on into Dan’s . . .
 
Oh, I remember this tree. I’d seen it lurking within a copse of its brethren just off the unplowed corduroy road. A tree waiting on this very chance with one of its branches projecting at a perfect ninety-degree angle: a straight jab of oak encased in transparent ice, its end whittled by sun and wind until only the hardest stuff remained. The heart-wood, it’s called.
 
That branch is now married to Dan’s face. His head is tilted back, his throat shorn by the wood running on its unbending plane: his neck and the branch form an inverted capital “T.”
 
Later, maybe I’ll have an opportunity to lie about how coldly I accept my husband’s death. At the funeral home with Dan’s pale-eyed father, both of us standing over his son’s coffin. I doubt I’ll ever come to grips with it, you know? But before the back of my skull even hits the dome-light I am reconciled to the fact, and moving past it.
 
I land on the stem of my neck, and my left side explodes in white-hot fireworks. I plant my feet on the windshield and push, snapping off the rearview mirror as I worm between the front seats to the little hangman suspended upside-down in his car seat.
 
“It’s okay, baby. Mommy’s here.”
 
Charlie is fastened by a meshwork of straps with his head socked between two fabric bananas. When we drove home from the hospital with him two months ago, Charlie’s head hung at a terrifying cockeyed angle on his neck. Yikes, that looks painful, Dan said. That afternoon he fixed the bananas in place.
 
My son’s bib has flipped down over his face but when I lift it, his face is unbloodied and his eyes bright. He sits jack-knifed at the hips—he has the shocking elasticity exclusive to babies and Balkan contortionists—his bootied feet folding down to touch his forehead. He’s so quiet it’s easy to believe he’s dead, but infants make you believe they’re either dead or just about to die several times a day. The moment I reach for him blood begins to foam out of his nose, as if my fingertips released it. It bubbles up from the cups of his nostrils and falls the wrong way down his face to collect in his eyes. But my son doesn’t make a sound.
 
Bracing one hand on his seat’s carry-bar, I stretch my foot up to pop the release catch. The seat falls painfully onto my chest. Wheezing, I thumb one of Charlie’s eyelids open: pupil dilated, the whites wormed with broken corpuscles. I probe his fingers through his tiny mittens, then move up each of his arms. Toes, feet, legs. Okay, okay, okay . . . I loosen the straps so he can breathe freely.
 
As a paramedic with the Niagara General Hospital, I’ve attended accidents like this. The first thing you learn is that you can’t save everyone. You must cradle a brutal stone of expediency in your heart.
 
I rest with Charlie on my chest. Now that his nose has stopped bleeding, he roots at my breast through my jacket. Snow is piled at the Volvo’s windows. Above the snow lies a slit of paling winter sky. The dashboard is lit, which means the battery’s not dead. Okay. I thumb the window button; the glass rises into its rubber flap with Swedish precision. I inhale pulverizing, cold air. It’s early December and the world is locked in an arctic freeze.
 
Digging with my elbows, I shove myself though the window. The snow is the dry powdery kind that falls during a cold snap. Unzipping my jacket, I slip a hand under my shirt. The wing-shaped bone running from my neck to outer shoulder is broken. The break-ends shift against one another to create a nausea-inducing buzz.

It’s bearable. Now get moving.
 
This voice belongs to an ancient village hag who sleeps on the bones of her enemies.
 
I can chart the Volvo’s path across the snow in the ashy late-afternoon sunlight: where we’d hit a patch of black ice and began to skip across the snow merrily as a stone over a frozen lake. Dan’s face comes back to me as it had been the instant before impact: mashing the brake pedal, darting a queasy glance at me as if to say, Sorry, babe, have this sorted in a flash. The Volvo must have flipped onto its roof before we slammed into the tree, its hood accordioning—  “Volvos are designed to crumple in zones of lesser consequence,” the dealer told us.
 
I stand in the two-hundred-foot wake of the crash. Tufts of brown grass poke through the snow crust. Around us, the landscape unfolds in shades of igneous metal: pewter sky, sun lowering behind banks of steel-edged clouds like a Mylar balloon losing air. We’re thirty miles outside Cataract City, my birthplace.
 

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Vermin

Vermin

Short Stories
edition:Paperback

The stories in Vermin are linked by themes of loss, longing and music. Stories in this collection have appeared in Joyland, The Saturday Evening Post, Room, The Antigonish Review and other journals and anthologies.

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How to Pronounce Knife

How to Pronounce Knife

Stories
edition:Paperback

LONGLISTED FOR THE 2020 SCOTIABANK GILLER PRIZE
Named one of the best books of spring 2020 by The New York Times, Salon, The Millions, and Vogue, and featuring stories that have appeared in Harper's, Granta, The Atlantic, and The Paris Review, this revelatory book of fiction from O. Henry Award winner Souvankham Thammavongsa establishes her as an essential new voice in Canadian and world literature. Told with compassion and wry humour, these stories honour characters struggling to find their bea …

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Excerpt

How to Pronounce Knife
The note had been typed out, folded over two times, and pinned to the child’s chest. It could not be missed. And as she did with all the other notes that went home with the child, her mother removed the pin and threw it away. If the contents were important, a phone call would be made to the home. And there had been no such call.

The family lived in a small apartment with two rooms. On the wall of the main room was a tiny painting with a brown bend at the centre. That brown bend was supposed to be a bridge, and the blots of red and orange brushed in around it were supposed to be trees. The child's father had painted this, but he didn't paint anymore. When he came home from work, the first thing he always did was kick off his shoes. Then he'd hand over a newspaper to the child, who unfolded sheets on the floor, forming a square, and around that square they sat down to have dinner. 

For dinner, it was cabbage and chitterlings. The butcher either threw the stuff away or had it out on display for cheap, so the child’s mother bought bags and bags from him and put them in the fridge. There were so many ways to cook these: in a broth with ginger and noodles, grilled over charcoal fire, stewed with fresh dill, or the way the child liked them best—baked in the oven with lemongrass and salt. When she took these dishes to school, other children would tease her about the smell. She shot back, “You wouldn’t know a good thing even if five hundred pounds of it came and sat on your face!”

When they all sat down for dinner, the child thought of the notes her mother threw away, and about bringing one to her father. There had been so many last week, maybe it was important. She listened as her father worried about his pay and his friends and how they were all making their living here in this new country. He said his friends, who were educated and had great jobs in Laos, now found themselves picking worms or being managed by pimple-faced teenagers. They’d had to begin all over again, as if the life they led before didn’t count.

The child got up, found the note in the garbage, and brought it to her father.

He waved the note away. "Later." He said this in Lao. Then, as if remembering something important, he added, "Don't speak Lao and don't tell anyone you are Lao. It's no good to tell people where you're from." The child looked at the centre of her father's chest, where, on his T-shirt, four letters stood side by side: LAOS.

A few days after that, there was some commotion in the classroom. All the girls showed up wearing different variations of pink, and the boys had on dark suits and little knotted ties. Miss Choi, the grade one teacher, was wearing a purple dress dotted with a print of tiny white flowers and shoes with little heels. The child looked down at her green jogging suit. The green was dark, like the green of broccoli, and the fabric at the knees was a few shades lighter and kept their shape even when she was standing straight up. In this scene of pink and sparkles and matching purses and black bow ties and pressed collars, she saw she was not like the others.

Miss Choi, always scanning the room for something out of place, noticed the green that the child was wearing and her eyes widened. She came running over and said, "Joy. Did you get your parents to read the note we sent home with you?" 

"No," she lied, looking at the floor where her blue shoes fitted themselves inside the space of a small square tile. She didn't want to lie, but there was no point in embarrasing her parents. The day went as planned. And in the class photo, the child was seated a little off to the side, with the grade and year sign placed in front of her. The sign was always right in the middle of these photos, but the photographer had to do something to hide the dirt on the child's shoes. Above that sign, she smiled. 

When her mother came to get her after school, she asked why all the children were dressed up this way, but the child didn't tell her. She lied, saying in Lao, "I don't know. Look at them, all fancy. It's just an ordinary day."

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If Sylvie Had Nine Lives

If Sylvie Had Nine Lives

edition:Paperback

An innovative, gorgeously written story about the small decisions that shape our lives.

Meet Sylvie -- funny, sly, sensual and flawed. She can't always count on herself to make good choices. She may or may not recognize a life-or-death moment, may or may not cancel her own wedding with a day to spare, might just try to walk past store security with a little something in her pocket. Like all of us, Sylvie must make decisions that have reverberations for years to come. Unlike the rest of us, Sylvie …

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The Lightning of Possible Storms

The Lightning of Possible Storms

edition:Paperback

Aleya's world starts to unravel after a café customer leaves behind a collection of short stories. Surprised and disturbed to discover that it has been dedicated to her, Aleya delves into the strange book...

A mad scientist seeks to steal his son's dreams. A struggling writer, skilled only at destruction, finds himself courted by Hollywood. A woman seeks to escape her body and live inside her dreams. Citizens panic when a new city block manifests out of nowhere. The personification of capitalism …

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The Swan Suit

The Swan Suit

edition:Paperback

Blending banalities of everyday human routines and dilemmas with elements of fairy tales, magic, the macabre and the downright inventive, Katherine Fawcett’s fiction is anything but predictable.

In this collection, reimagined folktales appear alongside stories entirely new, serving to defamiliarize us from the undeniably odd tales we continue to pass down generation after generation, and lend a vague familiarity to the stories of Fawcett’s invention.

One of the three little pigs launches a lin …

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