For this LitStack Rec, we are celebrating Short Story Month by singing the praises of the linked story collection and the novel-in-stories forms. Take your pick from any of our 5 outstanding LitStack Recommendations. But first, a few examples of titles on the spectrum of fictional form.
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The Unique Satisfaction of Linked Story Collections
A linked story collection—connected by character, place, or a central unifying action—offers the best of the long and short forms. In a single read, you get the breadth and depth of a novel. You can stay with characters over years or decades, developing that familiarity that only time on the page can bring.
The linked story collection offers the page-turning pace and compression of the short form. It allows us to experience the immediacy of life in digestible arcs that bring the short form’s narrative satisfaction. The linked story collection and the novel-in-stories forms are often indistinguishable. The linked story collection perhaps carries a bit more latitude with plot and pacing. Both satisfy in the same way, merging the best of the novel and story forms.
To mark this month’s celebration of the short story, here are five outstanding examples of the genre. We include two classics and three recent collections that broaden the conversation around the linked story collection form.
A Contemporary Classic Of The Linked Story Collection
Olive Kittredge, Elizabeth Strout’s novel-in-stories, has been compared to Sherwood Anderson’s Pulitzer Prize-winning story cycle, Winesburg, Ohio. Strout’s collection masterfully mines the emotional landscape of its protagonist/antagonist, Olive, and the townsfolk who populate the fictional New England coastal town, Crosby, Maine.
Most of the stories center on Olive, a middle school math teacher who doesn’t filter well in the social arena. Olive has a low threshold for anyone who can’t accept life’s hardships and just get on with it. Through Olive’s eyes, we see what it is to be a hard woman. She’s a person with high expectations of people, and an eccentric whose patience for the mainstream world long ago wore thin. This linked story collection was the winner of the 2009 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction.
A Linked Story Collection From A Virtuoso Of The Story Form
Unaccustomed Earth, the 2008 story collection by Pulitzer-Prize-winning author Jhumpa Lahiri, is told in two parts. These eight emotionally trenchant stories comprise a mosaic that continues the theme of Lahiri’s first book, Interpreter of Maladies: the Bengali-American experience and the tensions of living between cultures. While Part 1 examines a constellation of characters and circumstances, Part 2 follows the storyline of Hema and Kaushik, the children of immigrants who, like many of Lahiri’s characters, live in the American northeast, and straddle both the old world and the new.
We meet the pair in adolescence and follow their relationship over time, through college, as adults, and later, as spouses. Like all the stories in this gorgeous collection, those centering on Hema and Kaushik look at the span, and often the fragility of life. When Unaccustomed Earth was released, it debuted as No. 1 on the New York Times Bestseller List, and that same year won the 2008 Frank O’Connor International Short Story Award. Read more LitStack coverage of Lahiri’s work in this LitStack Rec covering The Clothing of Books and other titles by Lahiri.
New And Notable Linked Story Collections
If I Survive You, By Jonathan Escoffery
One of the blockbuster debuts of last fall, Jonathan Escoffery’s linked story collection If I Survive You follows a striving Jamaican family in Miami, and with high style and compassion tells the story of its generations and their struggles to get by. The parents, Topper and Sanya, flee political violence in Jamaica, hoping to raise their two sons in the opportunity of the US. But hardship, in the form of Hurricane Andrew and the recession, put a strain on the family, and in eight stories, Escoffery brilliantly shows how a family fragments and grows apart.
The opening line, “It begins with What are you? hollered from the perimeter of your yard when you’re nine…” launches us into the mind and heart of the younger son, Trelawney, and the in-betweenness of race and culture that defines his experience as he grows up, leaves home, and struggles to survive. There’s pain in many of these stories, but Escoffery has beautiful range that extends to the comic, the satiric, and the heartbreaking.
Stories From The Tenants Downstairs, By Sidik Fofana
Another spectacular debut linked story collection, Stories From the Tenants Downstairs, by Sidik Fofana, centers on a residential community in Harlem. Set in the building known as Banneker Homes, a low-income high rise, in eight commanding voice-driven stories, Fofana looks at the threat of gentrification on the community and documents the daily struggles and joys, both ordinary and extraordinary, across age, identity, and circumstance.
Winner of the Gotham Book Prize, finalist for the Los Angeles Times Art Seidenbaum Award, and the Ernest J. Gaines Award for Literary Excellence, Stories From the Tenants Downstairs has been called a “lyrical and engrossing collection,” by the Chicago Review of Books, and Fofana, “a unique, dynamic voice.”
Night Of The Living Rez, By Morgan Talty
This linked story collection has been nothing less than a phenomenon. Set in Maine, these stories center on the community of Penobscot Native Americans and their struggles—poverty, drug and alcohol addiction, family tragedy—while centering on one family, David, a young boy, his sister Paige, their mother, and her boyfriend Frick.
Winner of numerous awards, including a National Book Critics Circle Award and The PEN/Robert W. Bingham Prize for Debut Short Story Collection, this affecting debut mines tropes of horror to examine the Penobscot experience in twenty-first century America, and the profound ancestral influence of culture and traditions. Don’t miss Montez Jenning’s fascinating examination of the horror tropes in Talty’s collection, Night of the Living Rez.
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