My Favorite Short Reads, by Susie Moloney author of Things Withered, stories
1. “For Esme, with Love and Squalor,” from Nine Stories by JD Salinger
This was one of the first short stories I remember reading. My grandfather—a great man, an avid reader, but usually more of a sci-fi kind of guy, had the book kicking around his messy office. I picked it up because I liked the word “squalor.” Having lost my mother that very spring, I imagine I identified with Esme on a spiritual level. Actually wore my grandfather’s wristwatch for a while after that, but no one ever got the reference. Not even after I told them. Book I read right after that was The Diviners by Margaret Lawrence. I was 11. Kids. They grow up so fast.
2. Black Water by Joyce Carol Oates
While not a short story exactly, Black Water is a super quick read at 160 mind-blowing pages. I’m a pretty big JCO fan, even though she can be hit-and-miss. Black Water, her take on the Chappaquiddick event, actually made me feel like I was drowning while I was reading it. I read it in a single day, unable to stop. Whenever I would put it down, I would feel dizzy and frightened. It is an absolutely visceral book and a must-read for every young woman. Few write real horror like JCO. I’d also recommend Zombie by JCO. Terrifying.
3. “Isabelle” from CivilWarLand in Bad Decline by George Saunders
I do love me some misery and George Saunders might be the king of the long-faced story. I’m also partial to young boy protagonists because I am the mother of sons, and I find boys to be terribly, painfully vulnerable in a way that I’m not sure girls are. I think girls are mentally stronger than boys right from the start.
4. “Trucks,” from Night Shift by Stephen King
The first story in King’s first collection is one of his best, even if it’s not really one of his most popular. They made a super-crappy movie based on the story, which I think, ruined it forever. Do not see this movie! Instead, re-read the story of vehicles taking over the world, one diner at a time. King tends to overdo the Everyday Hero character, but in this particular story, the everyday hero reminded me a bit of my dad at a time when we weren’t getting along very well. I don’t remember the name of the character, but he narrates. Let’s just say The Narrator might have saved my dad’s life, because I was reading a lot of true crime fiction at the time.
5. “The Things They Carried,” from The Things They Carried by Tim O’Brien
This is a dark and terribly sad story about a platoon of soldiers in the Vietnam war. I had a grandfather and two uncles who had fought in wars, and my uncles had been in Vietnam. It wasn’t until I was an adult that I re-read the book and realized how poignant and profound talismans can be. A deeply frightening book.
6. “The Emperor’s Old Bones,” by Gemma Files
Gemma Files is one of those writers who is always a pleasure to read, even if you don’t read horror or spec fiction. She’s a flawless writer, twisted and complicated and her stories and characters are always very real. I read “The Emperor’s Old Bones” online, but I’m familiar with her work from many other sources. The steely-eyed, amoral subject of this story is perfect, there’s something incredibly intimate about the way Files writes evil. She’s always a kind of surprise, a writer for both readers and other writers. When I grow up, I wanna be Gemma Files.
Susie Moloney is the author of four novels of horror fiction. Her first collection of short fiction Things Withered, stories will be released in December 2013 from ChiZine Publications. Things Withered, stories is available everywhere, in all formats.