Short stories demand more of the reader (and writer) than a novel, which is why I’ve long preferred the latter. Novels are more forgiving, their expansiveness allows for meandering. But short fiction requires more attention to each line, each carefully crafted detail. A short story isn’t a mini-novel, but the best ones often hint at expansion while masterfully using compression to zero in on what’s essential about these characters and the moment we meet them. And the best collections aren’t simply a compilation of great stories. No, the best collections are an orchestrated treasury where each story builds off the previous ones—almost like an album that hits different notes and moods, but each track is indispensable.
In an effort to better understand the form—both as a reader and writer—I read more short stories this year. And wow, what a year for story collections. Some true gems were published in 2022, so it was hard to narrow this list down to ten (and there are at least ten 2022 titles still on my TBR—which is soon to be bursting with forthcoming 2023 books). Each of these story collections isn’t simply an assembly of great stories, but a thoughtfully curated mix of phenomenal ones that add up to beautiful arrangements you’ll want to revisit.
By Sara Lippmann
Mason Jar Press
There’s much to admire in these stories: the electric witty prose, the character depth achieved in mere pages, the way Lippmann tells expansive stories in such condensed form. In the heart and relatability of each story, we recognize our own fumbling desperations. Or, as Ian MacAllen put it in his review: “Lippmann succeeds in focusing on the harshness of the world around us… In Jerks, Sara Lippmann has crafted a very naturalistic depiction of middle-class, middle of suburbia, middle-aged life.” (And Lippmann published a fantastic novel this year, too—and Jill Witty interviewed her about it.)
Night of the Living Rez
By Morgan Talty
Winner of The New England Book Award for Fiction, this collection is a beautiful and brutal portrait of one Penobscot boy, his family, and friends. It’s clear from each story how intimately and expertly Talty understands short fiction and the art of compression. The careful construction of the order of these stories is just one of the stylistic choices that make the collection so compelling.
Haunting of Hajji Hotak
By Jamil Jan Kochai
One of my favorite things about being a Daily Editor at the CHIRB is learning about books that weren’t on my radar, as was the case with Jamil Jan Kochai’s collection, thanks to Farooq Chaudhry’s review. To quote his review: “Lighthearted yet powerful and oftentimes funny, The Haunting of Hajji Hotak is an incredible work of deep empathy and care, with witty writing and sharp stories that take unpredictable turns.” I loved the collection and was thrilled to see it named a finalist for the National Book Award. And what a treat to read Farooq Chaudhry’s interview with Jamil Jan Kochai.
Stories from the Tenants Downstairs
By Sidik Fofana
Simon & Schuster
One stellar collection we didn’t cover on the site was Sidik Fofana’s Stories from the Tenants Downstairs, though we were lucky to have him as a resident author on our Instagram. The collection centers narratives about residents who live in a fictional building in Harlem, which is under the threat of gentrification. The characters come alive on the page, and Fofana has such a unique, dynamic voice. It’s a lyrical and engrossing collection.
By Lydia Conklin
These remarkable stories range in setting with characters of varying identities and sexualities. We tend to meet characters when they’re at a crossroads, often dealing with liminal identities, queer conception, and queer joy, terrain Conklin navigates masterfully. To quote Kasey Peters’ review: “Captivating and brimming with love for queer life in all its weird glory, Lydia Conklin’s debut collection, Rainbow Rainbow, is by turns exuberant, tragic, funny, and whisper-quiet.”
If I Survive You
By Jonathan Escoffery
I wasn’t surprised to see this collection longlisted for the National Book Award as it is, while tender, also such a gut punch. To quote Jen St. Jude in their intro to their interview with Jonathan Escoffery: “It circles around race, home, family, masculinity, and the elusive, torturous American Dream; and all who are beaten down as they try to reach it. Escoffery’s prose is unforgettable.”
By Ru Freeman
To quote my own review: “These eleven stories cover vast terrain—physically: spanning Maine to Dublin, and Sri Lanka to Philadelphia; emotionally: grief, loneliness, fear, regret, and hope; and circumstantially: the characters vary in age, ethnicity, gender, and in the conditions of their lives. Threading the stories together is an examination of privilege—who has it and how it often needs to be negotiated…. While Freeman’s prose has many virtues—she’s masterful on a line level and utilizes effective narrative techniques in each story—it’s her ability to highlight how lonely it is to not truly be seen that makes Sleeping Alone so remarkable.”
By Kate Folk
I was a fan of Kate Folk’s work before her debut collection was released and was happy to be able to read an entire collection of her marvelously weird stories. To quote Ryan Asmussen in his introduction to his interview with Kate Folk: “A Wallace Stegner Fellow in fiction at Stanford University, Folk writes bleak, darkly comic stories, peopled by folks on edge, in straits that will grow more desperate over time, twilight zones to which these unwary must ultimately succumb.”
By Ling Ma
Farrar, Straus and Giroux
I finally picked up Ling Ma’s debut novel in May 2020—a strange time to read a novel about an epidemic—but I fell in love with her writing. I was excited to see she had a story collection coming out this year, and it didn’t disappoint. To quote Jenny Wu’s review: “Ma, the Kirkus Prize-winning author of Severance, writes as if the past can be re-scripted, people reborn, as easily as a story is spun on the page. And indeed her stylistic versatility makes it appear that way.”
By Camille Gomera-Tavarez
I’m ending with the only collection we didn’t cover or whose author we didn’t highlight this year—but don’t let our lack of coverage stop you from picking up this book. (If only we had the bandwidth to cover every book we’d like to showcase!) Camille Gomera-Tavarez’s interconnected stories follow a family across generations, in the Dominican Republic and America, as they deal with machismo, mental health, family, and identity. In an author’s note at the end, Gomera-Tavarez calls the book “a collection of memoirs from my life and stories my family have told me about theirs.” Perhaps that’s why High Spirits, in addition to its magical qualities, feels so intimate and evocative.
Rachel León is a writer, editor, and social worker. She serves as Daily Editor for Chicago Review of Books and Fiction Editor for Arcturus. Her work has appeared in The Rumpus, BOMB Magazine, The Millions, Electric Literature, Los Angeles Review of Books, the Ploughshares blog, Split Lip Magazine, and elsewhere. She shares her anxiety and wide-eyed optimism to encourage other writers in the newsletter Pub Cheerleaders, which you can find at: https://pubcheerleader.substack.com