These short story collections gave us sleepless nights
“As far as short stories are concerned, I like the grisly ones the best.” – Stephen King
Literary tapas that offer bite-sized morsels of intrigue, short story collections let you explore a complete narrative over a chai break. They’re the perfect choice for people with a thirst for literary escapades who want the title of being ‘well-read’ but have no time in their busy schedules.
Just by looking at the cover of Tweak Book Club’s October pick (get your copy here), Cursed Bunny by Bora Chung, you know things are about to get weird. If, like us, you’ve devoured this short story collection as quickly as a plate of garam jalebi, and are hungry for more, follow us down the rabbit hole with more wonderfully weird short story collections.
Here, the rules of reality are mere suggestions, and oddities take centre stage. This is your ticket to a literary carnival where the only rule is to expect the unexpected.
Mind-bending short story collections to add to your reading list
Her Body and Other Parties by Carmen Maria Machado
The female experience dominates these narratives, as Machado masterfully incorporates elements of speculative fiction, horror, magical realism and science fiction to keep you hooked. Explore the intricacies of women’s lives, queerness, and identity through a lens of innovative storytelling and narrative structures, such as lists, footnotes and transcripts, that make this work a great read for writers.
One of the standout stories in the collection is the award-winning The Husband Stitch, which reimagines the classic tale of The Green Ribbon, shining a spotlight on the expectations imposed by men and society on women and their presumptuous sense of ownership over our bodies.
Ambiguity Machines And Other Stories by Vandana Singh
Science and the mystical, the ordinary and the extraordinary intersect in Vandana Singh’s collection of stories, a literary journey through the wondrous realms of speculative fiction.
What would you do if you were a poet in ancient India and woke up one day in the future as an AI companion on a starship? The universe is a wonderful and strange place, and Singh uses all her might and talent to explore its every thread. She creates settings that are both fantastical and firmly rooted in scientific principles, immersing readers in richly detailed and immersive environments that enhance the overall reading experience.
Awayland by Ramona Ausubel
This pick on our list of short story collections presents a series of imaginative and often surreal narratives that delve into various facets of human experience, emotion, and the intricacies of relationships, whether it’s the bond between lovers, friends, or strangers.
A cyclops makes a dating profile in a search for love and companionship; a woman watches her mother fading away—not metaphorically, but disappearing into a literal mist, and a mayor attempts to bring up his town’s declining population with a designated sex day.
Ausubel’s ability to infuse emotional depth into her narratives, combined with her exploration of identity, family, and relationships, makes this work compelling. It serves as a reminder that even in the most surreal and fantastical landscapes, the human experience remains grounded in our shared emotions and connections.
Homesick for Another World by Ottessa Moshfegh
A reviewer for The New Yorker wrote of Ottessa Moshfegh being “easily the most interesting contemporary American writer on the subject of being alive when being alive feels terrible.”
Moshfegh has a flair for the grotesque, and while that may not be to everyone’s literary taste, they are bitter dark comedies that take the mundaneness of everyday tasks and turn them into riveting stories. In one of the book’s most beautifully crafted stories, The Beach Boy, we meet a doctor who’s grown a bit bored of the comfort of his married and well-to-do life. But when his wife passes away unexpectedly, his life loses its compass. He stumbles upon something that suggests his wife might have had an affair with a young male sex worker on their recent tropical vacation. Fueled by a mix of grief and anger, he decides to take matters into his own hands and plans to do something similar as revenge. As you can probably guess, things don’t quite unfold as he expects.
Even when you don’t like what you’re reading, the characters feel all too familiar, and that is perhaps the most unsettling and fantastic aspect of Moshfegh’s writing. If you’re unfamiliar with Moshfegh’s work, then you might find yourself staring at the ceiling at night, struggling to fall asleep after reading this one.
The Acid House by Irvine Welsh
Irvine Welsh’s characters possess a raw and gritty quality; they are people on the fringes of society, bound to a grim existence by their own limited aspirations. Within these short stories, the characters’ nihilistic outlooks, self-absorption, penchant for violence, and dark, often twisted humour permeate the narratives.
A drug addict takes too much LSD, gets struck by lightning and Freaky Fridays with a newborn; A man loses his job, home and girlfriend in one day and then meets God in a pub, only to be turned into a housefly to get his revenge pestering the people who walked all over him.
For anyone familiar with Welsh’s best-selling work Trainspotting, you’d know his stories have a grimy element that’s hard to look away from. Writing in his native Edinburgh Scots dialect, Welsh’s work can be hard to read at first, but once you get a hang of it, you almost feel like you’ve learnt a new language.
You Will Never Be Forgotten by Mary South
Given our obsession with social media and AI advancements, Mary South’s collection is bit of a terrifying read right now. This collection’s stories revolve around the impact of technology on contemporary life and human relationships, often with dark and eerie consequences.
A warehouse filled with clones named Keith looked after by a lonely nurse, an old-age home with residents calling a phone sex line (and not for the reason you think), and rehab for internet trolls – we could really use one.
The stories are eye-opening, heart-breaking, often bleak but filled with biting humour.
The Paper Menagerie by Ken Liu
If his name sounds familiar, it might be because the titular story of Ken Liu’s collection was the only work of fiction to win the Hugo, Nebula and World Fantasy awards all in the same year. It’s a beautiful story about a Chinese-American boy whose mother makes origami animals and breathes life into them, connecting conversations about racial identity, mother-child relationships and cultural traditions into a poignant piece. Or perhaps you dove into his works after watching the Good Hunting (also from this collection) episode in Love Death + Robots.
The stories cross genres from history to speculative fiction and fantasy; all dipped in Liu’s cultural traditions reckoning with modern life. What would you do if Siri and Alexa took over the world? Where do you draw the line between AI assistance and a controlling figure running your life? Some stories are quick reads that make you chuckle, and others fill you with the unexpected pain of trying to belong, which we have all felt at some point in our lives.
Get in Trouble by Kelly Link
Kelly Link is that friend in your group who you love but also hate a little because your parents keep talking about her incredible achievements. A MacArthur Genius Grant Fellow and Pulitzer Prize finalist, on top of being lauded by internationally-loved writers like Neil Gaiman and Margaret Atwood, how can you not be jealous?
Get in Trouble is filled with a little bit of everything and a great introduction to her writing.
This short story collection has robot boyfriends, mysterious, magical people giving you gifts and superhero sidekick tryouts. The world this book inhabits is a little bit weird, strange, and slightly dark but always playful.
Even though they’re in supernatural or fantastical situations, her characters feel like people you know. People from our world but on a slightly different wavelength.
Skeleton Crew by Stephen King
How can we talk about short stories without mentioning the king himself? You might associate Stephen King with books the size of bricks, but he started his career by writing short stories and sending them to various publications.
The Skeleton Crew has all the typical King signatures—warped humour, atmospheric tension that’s almost claustrophobic, and horror, both visual and psychological. The stories in this collection run from short to novella length, and the stand-out for most readers is The Mist – also turned into a movie, but we’re still debating which is better – where a group of people are trapped inside a supermarket that’s surrounded by a mysterious white mist which holds a deadly secret. Beachworld is another gem, with two astronauts finding themselves stranded on a desert planet with all its mysterious and hidden threats. More than the outer horror of an unknown space, the inner horror of one of the astronauts mentally deteriorating keeps the book firmly in your grip.
What Is Not Yours Is Not Yours by Helen Oyeyemi
Strange and surreal, What is Not Yours is Not Yours spans nine loosely connected tales with recurrent characters and themes – namely locks, keys and their symbolic applications. Helen Oyeyemi makes you question: is a key an invitation or warning for what should remain hidden?
These stories feel like modern fairy tales – set in the real world but with a hint of fantasy. A subtle undercurrent of unease adds to the charm of stories involving puppeteers, locked diaries, despotic rulers, vengeful spirits, and more, ensuring that each story is a continual and eagerly anticipated revelation.
Jagannath by Karin Tidbeck
Karin Tidbeck invites readers into a world where the ordinary and the extraordinary meld in a surreal dance. Jagannath takes readers on a journey, often delving into the power of language, the depth of imagination, and the fluidity of identity and love. Tidbeck’s storytelling challenges the boundaries of reality, inviting us to question what is real and what is fantastical.
Drawn from Nordic and European folklore and an incredible imagination, you get to read stories about a man who falls in love with an airship who lives with a woman in love with a steam engine, a partner created from menstrual blood, vegetables and salt, and a switchboard operator who suddenly finds himself in hell. As each story ends, you’ll find yourself stomping your feet, wanting more.