Last week was Valentine’s Day, and Flavorwire graced us with a list: 10 of the Greatest Short Stories about Love. And so I decided to use their list as my guide for the week, without knowing much about most of the stories.
I can’t say if these are indeed the ten greatest short stories about love, but they are all pretty great, and (to my delight) pretty twisted. These are not sappy or even romantic stories, and in fact, some might not call them love stories at all.
“How to Be an Other Woman” by Lorrie Moore, from Self-Help
I’m not usually a fan of second person narration, but the “how-to” in the title made it work for me. The narrator documents her relationship with a married man. In this excerpt, Charlene’s lover is telling her about his wife:
“She’s just incredibly organized. She makes lists for everything. It’s pretty impressive.”
Say flatly, dully: “What?”
“That she makes lists.”
“That she makes lists? You like that?”
“Well, yes. You know, what she’s going to do, what she has to buy, names of clients she has to see, et cetera.”
“Lists?” you murmur hopelessly, listlessly, your expensive beige raincoat still on.
“Heaven” by Mary Gaitskill, from Bad Behavior
The story of a family and the troubles they experience over a period of time. This is a story that’s larger than the words on the page. It’s a story I’ll think of again and again. I don’t want to say more. You should read it.
“A Rose for Emily” by William Faulkner, from Collected Stories
Have you read this? I went through life thinking that I had, but I was mistaken. It’s an unforgettable story, so I now know that I missed it. If I had read this in high school I would not have spent 20 years saying that William Faulkner was my least favorite author. (I’ve since come to my senses, but not without a lot of work). “A Rose for Emily” is tragic, powerful, and surprisingly straightforward for Faulkner. Even if you’ve read it, go read it again. Wow.
“The Infamous Bengal Ming,” by Rajesh Parameswaren, from I Am an Executioner
That this originally appeared in the “Horror” themed issue of Granta is a tip off that this is no ordinary love story. This was a reread for me, but I loved it as much the second time around. It’s the story of a tiger who realizes that he’s in love with his keeper, and it’s both tender and horrific.
“The Great Divorce,” Kelly Link, from Magic for Beginners
Alan and Lavvie Robley-Taylor have a mixed marriage. He’s alive, and she’s dead. In fact, she’s he’s been dead since before they were married, and now Lavvie wants a divorce. I’m becoming more of a Kelly Link fan with every story I read. If you’re a fan of Karen Russell or Aimee Bender, or if you liked our January short story read-along The Paper Menagerie, you should read Kelly’s work. And in fact, she makes it easy:. While you can buy a copy of Magic for Beginners from your favorite retailer, you can also download it for free, because Kelly Link has made the book available through Creative Commons. If you’re like me, after reading you’ll want to buy your own copy and several more for gifts.
“Spring in Failta” by Vladimir Nabokov, from The Stories of Vladimir Nabokov
The narrator recounts his last meeting with Nina, a woman with whom he’s had a 15-year flirtation, despite meeting only occasionally and with long absences between. There is wonderful writing and imagery here, a little bit of ambiguity, and some words that drove me straight to the dictionary. Bonus: I now know what “plus-fours” are, though I still don’t know why men would wear them.
“What We Talk About When We Talk About Love,’ Raymond Carver, from the collection of the same name
A classic, though possibly not a traditional Valentine’s Day story. It’s a drunken conversation around a table, fueled by gin and tonics. Mel and Terri tell their stories while Nick and Laura listen, together. Through the stories told, we learn that each person views love differently, and that love is something that cannot easily be expressed in words.
The revelation this week was definitely Faulkner’s story, but I truly enjoyed them all. Got other twisted love stories to recommend? Leave them in the comments. Thanks!