Everywhere I look, people are begging for sad books! They want books to make them ugly cry, books with devastating endings, books that make them cry in public, the list is endless! Some might think it’s strange to willingly submit yourself to something sure to make you upset, but according to VeryWellMind, it’s perfectly reasonable. Sad short stories and novels alike connect us to our real-life emotions in a controlled way. They make us more grateful for our relationships and the meaning we hold about our lives. This is called the “tragic paradox” or the “paradox of tragedy,” the psychological contradiction of enjoying a tragic story that spans back to even Aristotle.
We’ve always liked to feel things in our fiction. It seems logical one of those feelings is sadness in its many forms. Grief, of course, is a huge focus of many novels like A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness or This Thing Between Us by Gus Moreno. There’s also a bittersweet sadness like in The Remains of the Day by Kazuo Ishiguro or a lot of coming-of-age novels. Melancholy, heartbreak, disappointment, they all are types of sad in my book or, well, books.
But maybe you don’t want to read a whole book. Maybe you just want a little shot of sadness on your lunch break or right before bed. Whatever the reason (I don’t judge), here are the best sad short stories to get the emotions flowing in no time!
“Paper Menagerie” by Ken Liu
As a child, Jack’s mother folded origami animals out of left-over wrapping paper. They were special, they were alive. But as he got older, Jack started to resent that his mother couldn’t speak English, that she didn’t cook American food. After she gets sick, he finds a letter in the box where he kept all of her origami animals, in which she tells him everything he refused to listen to for years.
“Mercedes’ Special Talent” by Tere Davilla, Translated by Rebecca Hanssens-Reed
Growing up, the narrator’s mother, Mercedes, was convinced she was going to die. A chronic smoker and manic, she served as a counterpoint to her father who worshipped Mercedes, lit her every cigarette, and had a tendency for jealousy if anyone so much as came near her. When her father comes to her, saying he’s sick, they agree to keep it from Mercedes. The final image of this is what’s so striking to me, a man on his deathbed still dedicated to his wife.
“D Day” by Rachel Khong
After a notification goes out to everyone’s phone that God’s getting rid of human beings in order to erase racism, climate change, and myriad other societal issues, everyone must choose an animal to become instead. Best friends and artists Jade and Ruby discuss what they want to be, researching what animals have friends, get drunk, or sleep the most. As they debate options back and forth, they must face the fact that they probably won’t miss each other, or even remember each other, once the day comes.
“Pre-Simulation Consultation XF007867” by Kim Fu
An unnamed narrator has a conversation with an operator of a simulation program. All they want is to spend some time in the simulation with their deceased mother, chatting about nothing and present, really present, just this once. But bureaucracy keeps getting in the way as the operator tells them it’s against the rules.
“The Knowers” by Helen Phillips
Some people want to know when they die, others don’t. Ellie, the narrator, is the former, her husband the latter. When she goes to the DMV-esque building to find out when she dies, she tells her husband the date but not the year. Every year, they plan something for that day, and every year they do their best to be grateful and live it to the fullest. But we all know what waits at the end of the story and, really, every story.
“You, Disappearing” by Alexandra Kleeman
When the apocalypse comes, it’s not loud and violent and Earth-shaking. It’s quiet, so quiet, when things start disappearing. Your keys, your cat, your memories. The stress of it all causes the narrators relationship to crumble, but when their cat disappears, they call their old love to reminisce.
“Nnabuike” by Arinze Ifeakandu
After the narrator moves into a lodge and greets the neighbors, he’s immediately attracted to Onyebuchi. They quickly wind up in a sexual relationship, one that Onyebuchi stays detached from. Then, one day, he is gone with the narrator’s things, with the other boys’ things, and with nothing left behind to commemorate what they were to each other.
“The Travel Guide to the Dimension of Lost Things” by Effie Seiberg
There is a place where lost things go, where a gray sky sits perpetually overhead, where pain exists. This place is the Dimension of Lost Things. This place is depression. As the narrator debates how to get out, of if they even want to, they do laundry and clean their space, finding it makes them feel ever so slightly better.