I’m that person who subscribes to The New Yorker and has trouble throwing it away. I usually read one article per issue — I’m drawn to the crime, health and international stories — and then I shove it under my nightstand. I’ll dust the top of the stack now and then, until it’s either time to move or I’m on a short-story kick and then I’ll sit in a scattered pile of magazines and read the fiction.
I remember vividly sitting on the dirty carpet in a townhouse I shared with a roommate near Adams Morgan in D.C. It was a late Sunday summer morning nearly five years ago, and I was clearing out my New Yorkers because I was moving in with A. I was about 20 weeks pregnant, and I had to go to the bathroom, but I started reading “Wakefield” by E.L. Doctorow and I couldn’t put it down. The bathroom was down the hall — it didn’t even occur to me to bring the magazine with me. I was rooted in that spot, captivated by the man who didn’t mean to leave his wife, but ended up his attic after a long day and fell asleep and then, when it was daylight, couldn’t get himself to go in the house.
I was totally bewildered by the situation I had created for myself. I can’t claim that I was thinking rationally. But I actually felt that it would be a mistake to walk into my house and explain the sequence of events that had led me to spend the night in the garage attic. Diana would have been up till all hours, pacing the floor and worrying what had happened to me. My appearance, and her sense of relief, would enrage her. Either she would think that I had been with another woman or, if she did believe my story, it would strike her as so weird as to be a kind of benchmark in our married life.
It’s not a short-short story, either — it’s nearly 12,000 words. But I remember that feeling of being “wow’d” by Doctorow’s talent that pulled into a made-up man’s psyche.
I think about this story when I try to write — what worked? Why is this story so brilliant to me? Images of this story and a few others are still seared in my mind. I re-read them now and then to glean something from their craft.
Here’s my list of my favorite short stories, as of now:
- “Paranoia” by Shirley Jackson
- “Wakefield” by E.L. Doctorow
- “Foster” by Claire Keegan
- “Miracle Polish” by Steven Milhauser
- “Black Box” by Jennifer Egan
- “Kavitha and Mustafa” by Shobha Rao
I’m always looking for more: What are some of your favorite short stories?