All summer, Jezebel has been inviting authors from a wide range of genres to stop by and make book recommendations. For our final installment before Labor Day, we have Lauren Groff recommending short story collections specifically—perfect for quick, intense dips before you return to the vividness of the season.
Groff is the author of Fates and Furies, a National Book Award nominee that earned her plaudits from Barack Obama; she was profiled by Jezebel in 2018 and talked to our own Stassa Edwards about the “Eden of terrible things” that is Florida, the subject of her short story collection of the same name. The setting of her latest, Matrix, is very different. Set in 12th century England, it follows poet Marie de France, one of the earliest known women writers in Europe and a mysterious figure about whom very little is known beyond her work. Groff imagines her as a rough-edged 17-year-old newly booted from the royal court and sent to serve as an abbey prioress. For Jezebel readers, she recommends Clare Sestanovich, Lauren van der Berg, and Edwidge Danticat.
Something about the intense sunlight and heat in the summer makes me gravitate toward short story collections, which let me dive into single stories—brief, rich, complicated, refreshing narratives that take only minutes to finish reading—before I am restless to be up and out in the world again. All of these collections are (relatively) new, by living writers (with one notable exception).
This is by far my favorite short story collection of the past two or three years; Sestanovich is utterly brilliant, writing stories of a realism so strangely sharp that they begin to seem surreal. Also, these stories have such perfect sentences in them that I often finished a story and immediately reread it to understand how in the world Sestanovich made her magic.
This collection of extremely short stories builds its power as it goes along; characters and themes begin to emerge in fugue-like variations. I love how Blackburn lets the rawness into her voice in a number of the stories, many of which push against gender norms and expectations of sexual desire.
I have yet to read an Edwidge Danticat book that I don’t utterly love—she’s so consistently perceptive and incisive. This collection touches down in Port-au-Prince, Brooklyn, and the Haitian community in Miami, and its greatest wisdom is in the emotional delicacy of the relationships Danticat describes with such compassion and nuance.
This is the oldest book on the list, published in 2015, but it made the list because it is one that I return to every few months to see how a master of the off-kilter, eccentric, and mystical creates such astonishing, hilarious, and memorable stories. I don’t know any writer alive whose sentences are so consistently electric.
I listened to this collection in audiobook format, while running in the cool and ferny woods in New Hampshire, and was so besotted with it that I went miles farther every day than I was planning to. Such smart stories about Latina women of Indigenous descent in the American West; I look forward to everything else Fajardo-Anstine will write.
I’ve loved van den Berg’s stories for years, and think this, her third collection of them is the most dazzling yet. Laura’s stories often feature the devastating love/hatred between sisters, unexplained mysteries, the reverberations of loss, a flavor of the uncanny that just barely brushes up against horror.
I fell in love with So’s story “Three Women of Chuck’s Donuts” when it appeared in the New Yorker and was excited about the promise of this new writer when word came that he died far too young, in the months before his first book came out. This collection is smart and hilarious and moving. I rue the stories he should have written.