1.“The Zero Meter Diving Team”by Jim Shepard (BOMB Magazine)
This curious, masterful story is about aset of brothers who work as managing engineers overseeing the Chernobyl power station on April 26, 1986, but, aswith most of Shepard’s work, it’s also about the invisible planets of loss that our personal lives orbit. It is both an education and an elegy. Shepard’s forthcoming novel of the Warsaw Ghetto,Aaron Only Thinks of Himself, promises more of the same.
2.“A Tiny Feast”by Chris Adrian (The New Yorker)
Titania and Oberon, the immortal Queen and King of the Fairies, live under a hill in a modern city park. To save their marriage, they adopt a mortal toddler and begin to raise him, only to discover he has developed terminal leukemia. What follows, set in a fairy den and an oncology ward, is one of the best (and, somehow, realest)short stories ever written, a haunting exploration of love and death that has followed this reader, at least, into marriage, parenthood, and nearly every subsequent day spent on this earth.
3.“Lorry Raja”by Madhuri Vijay (Narrative Magazine)
One of the newest voices on this list, Vijay tells the story of Indian children mining the ore used to construct Olympic stadiums in China with remarkable poise and vision. While the inherently political nature of the story is certainly important and the writing isruthless in its detail, to approach “Lorry Raja” in only that way is to missthe quiet power of Vijay’s prose, as well as its ability to look honestly into the subtleties of family and the scales of desire without denying beauty whereit lurks.
4.“Bluebell Meadow”by Benedict Kiely(The New Yorker)
Published in 1975 at the peak of The Troubles in Ireland, Kiely’s unlikely story of a small country park and the two young people who spend a few afternoons together in it is sly, funny, and tremendously affecting. A lesson simultaneously in understatement and heart, this story is really about the nearmisses of the lives we almost live, as well as what time does to the things that could’ve been. Long forgotten by most, author Colum McCann miraculously resurrected it forThe New Yorker‘s fiction podcast, and it is best experienced in his wonderful voice.
5. “Some Other, Better Otto” by Deborah Eisenberg (The Yale Review)
It’s difficult to say exactly why this story—the reflections of intelligent, grumpy Otto about his aging partner William, his own aging, his uneasy relationship with his family, the sanity of his troubled sister, loneliness, and the new baby of his upstairs renter—is as wonderful as it very much is. The story is, in the end, a testament to the power of a whole person—caustic, funny, articulate, alone, lost and found, cruel and loving—given life on the page. Originally published inThe Yale Review, eager readers can find it inTheBest American Short Stories 2004anthology.
6.“City Lovers”by Nadine Gordimer (The New Yorker)
Also published in 1975, sixteen years before she would be awarded the Nobel Prize, this is Gordimer’s story of the relationship between Austrian geologist Dr. Franz-Josef Von Leinsdorf and a mixed-race Johannesburg shop girl, an affair that is illegal in apartheid-era South Africa. One of the most overlooked pieces of Gordimer’s writing, this is also one of the quietest, and most effective. The uneasy dynamics of race, class, and power (especially when it comes to love and sex) are nimbly explored here,and build to a devastating end. It was similarly saved from obscurity, this time by author Tessa Hadley, forThe New Yorker‘s fiction podcast.
7.“Spring in Fialta”by Vladimir Nabokov“
Spring in Fialta is cloudy and dull,” begins this amusing and heartbreakingstory, perhaps the most underappreciated narrative Nabokov ever wrote. Waiting behind Nabokov’s admittedly long and wry sentences is the plainly moving story of a love affairpursued through the years. Every detailworks together here to render Nabokov’s testament to the illusiveness of love and memory, and areader’s patience is richly rewarded. Those interested can find it online, or in the excellent anthology of love stories,My Mistress’ Sparrow Is Dead.
8.“Inventing Wampanoag, 1672”by Ben Shattuck (FiveChapters)
While this very short, very tricky story purports to be about the birth of the tribal language used to print the first Bible in the Americas, it is really about the death of it, and the way history itself is a colonizing narrative. Shattuck’s facility with prose makes this a funny, winning story, even as it isa bitter and sad one: a clever and unique creation that will stay with you long after you’re done reading.10. “Painted Ocean, Painted Ship” by Rebecca Makkai (Ploughshares)This humorous, deceptive story, loosely descended from Coleridge’s most famous poem, follows an unreliable English professor as a single compound error (mistaking a bird, then a student) births another andanother, eventually threatening her potential marriage, job, and fate. The best part, however, is the turn at the very end, which reveals the entire storyto perhaps have been something different all along, a sneakily stunning mediation on the limits of self-awareness, guilt, and penance. Originally published inPloughshares, curious readers can find it in the pagesof theBest American Short Stories 2010anthology.