Stephen King once said a novel is a love affair, while a short story is a kiss in the dark. Hey, I’ll buy it. Novels are work. Commitments. Contracts in good faith. Often, intimate and soul-enriching partnerships. But they’re not without their trappings.
For one, they can go on longer than they should. They can be clunky in places. Rigid in their approach. Forceful, even. And while novels have the ability to whisk us off to new and fully-formed worlds, alongside fully-formed characters, there can be disagreements with where the narrative should be heading, or how things should turn out. At their most comprehensive, novels can make too many choices on our behalf, or reduce the celestial realm of imagination to a single, absolute conclusion.
It should be of no surprise then that, when it comes to speculative fiction—fiction of the weird, of the physically and metaphysically flexible—the short story may just be the perfect medium. It’s a peck in the dark for the recklessly imaginative, often providing something more precious and affecting than the mechanics of plots and resolution. In its ability to puncture little more than a peephole in the veil of reality, a good short story can provide not only a glimpse of an unfinished image, but conjure up the lingering and hopeful sense of infinite possibility.
Here are five short story collections that know just what I mean.