I love short stories that fall somewhere on the spectrum between reality and fantasy, and short story collections that move in between these two states are even more exciting. They present a very particular reading experience that puts you on edge because you never quite know what you’re getting yourself into or what to expect. Here are four short story collections that do just that!
The Poison Eaters and Other Stories by Holly Black
Holly Black is one of the few YA writers who is just as adept at short stories as she is at novels. Much like her overall body of work, this collection features a wonderful range of stories, from dark faeries to realism with a delicious twist. You’ll find here one of my favorite short stories of all time, “Paper Cuts Scissors,” about a young library student who takes on a bizarre night job. Plus, the first story in the collection is called “The Coldest Girl in Coldtown,” which later developed into her novel of the same title (but with different characters!). People who have never read Black’s work and longtime fans will all find something to love in this collection.
Verdict: Definitely borrow, and buy if you’re a big-time Holly Black fan (like me!).
What Is Not Yours Is Not Yours by Helen Oyeyemi
In many ways, this collection defies explanation. The short stories are linked by the concept of keys and, I’d argue, by their grown-up fairy tale feel. The stories exist in the real world (or at least in a recognizable version of our world!), with fantastical twists, and they have great queer representation. Many of stories are loosely connected in exciting ways, making the entire book feel like a puzzle that the reader has to put together. I’ll be the first to confess that some of the brilliance of this collection probably went over my head, but that just makes me excited to re-visit this bizarrely brilliant book for new insights.
Verdict: Buy. Because you’re going to want to re-read it.
The Unfinished World by Amber Sparks
This slender and shimmery book is full of strange stories and odd vignettes. They tend to lean slightly more towards science fiction with their time travelers and fever librarians and space janitors, but even these elements feel somewhat magical. There aren’t many happy endings in these tales, but each situation is thought provoking, and the writing toys and teases. Some of the longer pieces of work are excellent, but some of the vignettes feel underdeveloped. Nonetheless, this collection is a trippy and enjoyable ride.
Get in Trouble by Kelly Link
The first thing to captivate me about this collection was the brilliant title, but I promise you that the stories deliver. Link has the uncanny ability to make the mundane fantastical, and vice versa. Her settings in particular stand out to me: an abandoned Wizard of Oz theme park, Florida swamps, a seemingly empty summerhouse, a hotel where two very different conventions converge, a spaceship hurtling into the dark…Link plays with desire and magic, and her sly humor is the connective tissue that holds these stories together.
Verdict: Buy, because it’s Kelly Link. Duh.