Tag Archives: short story

And How Much of These Hills Is Gold

Illustration by Kjell Reigstad

C Pam Zhang | The Missouri Review | Spring 2017 | 17 minutes (4,793 words)

This short story first appeared in The Missouri Review, the quarterly print journal produced at the University of Missouri since 1978. In a frontier Western mining town, the children of two Chinese miners struggle to survive on their own. It’s the first chapter of an in-progress novel. Our thanks to C Pam Zhang and the TMR staff for allowing us to reprint it at Longreads.

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Ba dies in the night, prompting them to seek two silver dollars.

Sam’s tapping an angry beat come morning but Lucy, before they leave, feels a need to speak. Silence weighs hard on her, pushes till she gives way. Leaking apologies or Ha ha has.

“Sorry,” she says now to Ba in his bed. The sheet that tucks him is the only clean stretch in this dim and crusty room, every surface sticky with tobacco spit. Ba didn’t heed the mess while living and in death his mean squint goes right past it. Past Lucy. Straight to Sam. Sam the favorite, round bundle of impatience tapping at the door in too-big boots. Sam clung to Ba’s every word and now won’t even meet the man’s gaze. That’s when it hits Lucy: Ba really is gone.

She digs a toe into the dirt floor, rooting for better words. Words to make them listen. To spread benediction over years’ worth of hurt. Dust hangs ghostly in the air, no wind to stir it.

Something prods her spine.

“Pow,” Sam says. Ten to Lucy’s twelve, wood to her water as Ma liked to say, Sam is nonetheless shorter by a full foot. Looks young, deceptively soft. “Too slow. You’re dead.” Sam cocks fingers back from pudgy fists and blows on the muzzle of an imaginary gun. The way Ba used to. Proper way to do things, Ba said, and when Lucy said Teacher Lee said these new guns didn’t clog and didn’t need blowing, Ba judged the proper way was to slap her. Stars burst behind her eyes, a flint of pain sharp in her nose.

Lucy’s nose never did grow back straight. She thumbs it, thinking. Proper way, Ba said, was to let it heal itself. When he looked at Lucy’s face after the bloom of bruise faded, he nodded right quick. Like he planned it all along. Proper that you should have something to rememory you for sassing.

There’s dirt on Sam’s face, sure, and gunpowder rubbed on to look (Sam thinks) like Injun warpaint, but beneath it all, Sam’s face is unblemished.

Just this once, because Ba’s big muck-shovel hands are helpless and stiff under the blanket—and maybe she is good, is smart, thinks in some part of her that riling Ba might make him stand and swing at her jaw—Lucy does what she never does. She cocks her hands, points her fingers. Prods Sam in the chin, at the join where Injun paint gives way to baby fat.

“Pow yourself,” Lucy says. She pushes Sam like an outlaw into the street. Read more…

Law and Order, Coffee Shop Edition

Photo by Crew, via Unsplash

In Broken Pencil, Susan Read shares short fiction centered on a Kafka-esque interrogation in the back room of a coffee shop — you know, the one where they wear the green aprons — that’s a stinging indictment of the byzantine policies, procedures, and psychology of being a low wage employee.

I wonder if my manager thinks I did this. If my friends think I did this.

I mean, I would think I did this, if I wasn’t me.

It’s hot and I feel anxious and I feel angry and I feel…guilty.

And then I feel even angrier, and I think about how hard I have worked for Tarsucks, how I am probably the best barista at my store, and instead of a farewell party, I will be walking out of this place with my tail between my legs, and my head down, hoping that no one will notice the tears that are now readily streaming down my face in fear and anxiety and frustration.

I take a sip of water.

I lift up the form I was handed and notice another beneath it.  It has a similar format: fill in the blanks and sign your name, we’ll take care of the rest.

I _________ do hereby permit __________to ________ me up the _____.

Actually, the form authorizes Tarsucks to compensate the stolen money directly from my paychecks until full restoration of funds is received.

It is a confession, typed up and waiting for me to sign.

I sit back in my chair, crying a little but no longer fidgeting, still sweating in that tiny back office, which I am free to leave at any time.  I wait for my tribunal to reconvene.

Read the story

Rainy Season

 Amy Parker | Beasts & Children, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt | February 2016 | 30 minutes (7,639 words) 

Our latest Longreads Exclusive is “Rainy Season,” a short story from Beasts & ChildrenAmy Parker’s acclaimed debut collection. The book’s interlinked stories unwind the lives of three families, casting a cool eye on the wreckage of childhood and the nuances of family history.

“Rainy Season” is nightmarish but entrancing—two young American sisters living in Thailand sneak out of their diplomatic compound and into the Chiang Mai night with a trio of Korean businessmen who have mistaken them for prostitutes. Parker’s sentences are lyrical and brutal, her gaze both kaleidoscopic and piercingly straightforward. 


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Cities I’ve Never Lived In: A Story By Sara Majka

Photo credit: Chris Ward

Sara Majka | Longreads |  October 2015 |  23 minutes (5,561 words)

Our latest Longreads Exclusive is a previously unpublished short story by Sara Majkaas chosen by Longreads contributing editor A. N. Devers, who writes: 

“This short story, about a woman who decides to travel to from city to city, working and eating in soup kitchens, is the previously unpublished title story from a collection I have been wishing and longing for for almost a decade. I first met Sara Majka in a fiction workshop at the Bennington Writing Seminars, where we both were enrolled as students. At the time, I was a new assistant editor at A Public Space and I brought Majka’s work to the attention of editor Brigid Hughes. If I recall correctly, her story was the only story I brought from my workshop directly to the magazine for consideration. It was a quiet and considered story with a singular voice. I was struck by how certain and precise the language was—how unusual and full of unspoken yearnings. She was able to convey so much disorientation, doubt, and pain through small observations and deceptively simple memories. Majka’s characters read as if they are feeling their way through a room with their eyes closed even though the lights are on—the reality of what is in front of them is difficult for them to process, the choices they are faced with confusing—despite their sincere attempts to find their way.

The story I showed Hughes ultimately did not end up in the magazine, (I later found it a home at Pen America), but she was more than intrigued, and later published another story and began a working relationship with Majka that led to the forthcoming publication of Cities I’ve Never Lived In, as a part of A Public Space Books, their imprint with Graywolf Press. These stories are a marvel and will break your heart. Majka’s debut is breath-stopping.”

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Hygge: The Dark Side of Danish Comfort, a Story by Dorthe Nors

Dorthe Nors | Longreads |  August 2015 |  8 minutes (1,904 words)


Our latest Longreads Exclusive is a previously unpublished short story by Danish writer Dorthe Nors, translated into English by Misha Hoekstra, and chosen by Longreads contributing editor A. N. Devers, who writes: 

“I first came across the intriguingly sparse work of Dorthe Nors in the pages of the literary magazine, A Public Space. And then the magazine went on to publish her first short story collection translated into English, Karate Chop, in partnership with Graywolf Press, and it became one of my favorite books last year. Although her stories are quite short, they are flashes of sharp and bright light into the otherwise obscure and dark corners of life. Last winter, a particularly cold and brutal season for New York, I helped curate a reading series for a temporary exhibition space called Winter Shack, themed around the idea of exploring the concept of “coziness.” In Denmark, I’d learned the pursuit of being cozy is a particular philosophy with its own rules and traditions, undertaken to beat the winter doldrums. We were lucky that Nors was game to send along an introduction to the Danish custom of cozy as well as an original short story that demonstrates the dangers of pursuing its creature comforts. Longreads is proud to be the first publisher of this eye-opening story about the happiest people in the world.”

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‘Puro Amor’: A New Short Story by Sandra Cisneros

Still Life with Parrot and Fruit image via Flickr

The truth was that the Mister had always been dishonest. Not with his feelings but with his heart. He would be the first to tell you how honest he was about his dishonesties. He was like a chronic bed-wetter; he could not control himself. He would always be a bed-wetter even if he were not given a drop to drink. He had no wish to overcome this weakness. A big overgrown child indulging in whatever he saw, his eyes bigger than his pajarito.

And so Missus Rivera surrounded herself with animals. For what could be better than creatures when one has been betrayed, what finer emblem of loyalty and steadfastness and pure love.

Puro amor y amor puro. That’s what each pet gave her, pure and clean. Pure love and only love. Who wouldn’t want that?

“¿Quién quiere amor?” Missus called out. It was as if she was giving away treats and not simply love, for the creatures rose from all corners of the house and courtyard…

…The Guacamaya, who had the most acute hearing of all the household, stretched out his feathered neck, revealing flesh as pink as a toreador’s stockings, batted magnificent wings, bobbed like a prizefighter, the black orbs of his eyes growing larger, then smaller, larger, smaller, until finally he shrieked with wicked pleasure, “¿Quién quiere amor?” in the voice of a crone, as if making a mockery of the Missus.

-From “Puro Amor,” a new short story by The House on Mango Street author Sandra Cisneros–seemingly based on Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera–in The Washington Post’s 2015 Fiction Issue (second story, below one by Curtis Sittenfeld and above another one by Padgett Powell).

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Who Killed Dolly Wilde?

Dolly Wilde, photographed by Cecil Beaton

Megan Mayhew Bergman | Almost Famous Women | Scribner | July 2015 | 36 minutes (6,383 words)


Our latest Longreads Exclusive is a short story from Almost Famous Womena collection by Megan Mayhew Bergman, as recommended by Longreads contributor A. N. Devers, who writes: 

“In her vital and poignant themed story collection, Megan Mayhew Bergman explores the interior lives of women who lived on the precipice of notoriety before falling into obscurity. The story here, ‘Who Killed Dolly Wilde?,’ delves into the unusual life and mysterious death of Oscar Wilde’s niece, Dorothy Wilde, building a rich portrait of a witty and wild bon vivant who dated both men and women (but mostly women), drove an ambulance in World War I, and fell prey to dangerous addictions. Bergman daringly imagines Wilde’s last days suffering with cancer and her addictions as something other than what history has recorded, which leaves a unsettling and dangerous aftertaste in the reader’s mouth—if we write women out of history, we never know the truth of things.”

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John Keene’s ‘Rivers,’ A Speculative Huck Finn-Inspired Short Story

Photo by Nina Subin. Courtesy of New Directions.

Huckleberry seized my hand, clasping it so tight he brought back in a quick flood of feelings those years with the Widow Watson, and whispered as if he wanted only me and not his friend to hear, “You take care of yourself, Jim, and keep out of all that trouble, please, cause this world is about ready to break wide open, and I sure don’t want to see you get swallowed up.”

From Vice, John Keene’s short story, “Rivers,” an ambitious and daring story that imagines Jim’s life forty years after his ride on a raft down the Mississippi River with Huckleberry Finn.

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Between Generals: A Newly Translated Short Story by Antonio Tabucchi

Tower of Babel, by Pieter Bruegel the Elder, via Wikimedia Commons

Antonio Tabucchi | from the collection Time Ages in a Hurry | Archipelago Books | May 2015 | 13 minutes (3,194 words)


Our latest Longreads Exclusive is a newly translated short story from Time Ages in a Hurry, a collection by Antonio Tabucchi, as recommended by Longreads contributor A. N. Devers

“A result of living in a place as inescapably public as New York City is that its people are deeply private in public spaces — eye contact on the street and subways is actively discouraged and conversation between strangers is kept to a minimum — making it easy to forget that its greatest asset is the stories of its people. We’re reminded of this in “Between Generals” a quiet and nuanced portrait of a man by the late Italian writer Antonio Tabucchi, in which we learn about the complicated history of one of New York City’s immigrants, a former Hungarian General who realizes he spent one of his best days with his worst enemies. Newly translated into English by novelist Martha Cooley and Antonio Romani  for Archipelago Books, Tabucchi’s stories in Time Ages in a Hurry are careful, nuanced, and smartly skeptical of memory and experience.

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The House Made of Sugar

Silvina Ocampo, 1973.

Silvina Ocampo | The House Made of Sugar: a short story from the collection Thus Were Their Faces | NYRB Classics | January 2015 | 13 minutes (3,235 words)


Our latest Longreads Exclusive is a newly translated short story from Thus Were Their Faces, a collection by Silvina Ocampo, as recommended by Longreads contributor A. N. Devers, who writes: 

“Long before ‘Real Housewives of New Jersey’ castmember (and Danbury Federal Correctional Institution Inmate) Teresa Giudice infamously stated, ‘I don’t want to live in somebody else’s house. That’s gross,’ the late Argentinian writer Silvina Ocampo wrote “The House Made of Sugar,” a story about a woman named Cristina who is too superstitious to live in a house that had been previously occupied. Her husband deceives her and when they move into their dream home based upon his lie, strange and worrisome things start to happen that suggest Cristina’s fears were warranted. Newly translated into English by Daniel Balderston, with a preface by Borges, Ocampo’s stories are unsettling and off-kilter, revelatory and readable. Novelist Helen Oyeyemi writes in the collection’s introduction, ‘Love is as fearsome in an Ocampo story as it is in Wuthering Heights; emotion has a way of sealing us into a charmed circle that makes us incomprehensible to everyone who stands outside it.'”

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