Fiction Gallery: Exceptional Short Stories

Fiction Gallery: Exceptional Short Stories

About Fiction Gallery
Table of Contents & Excerpts
Interview with Authors and Editor
Reviews
Teaching Guide

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See also:
Writing Fiction
Writing Movies

“”
Fiction Gallery is a wonderful selection for the general reader and writing student alike. The editors have chosen stories with great range of period, style, form, and subject, stories that brilliantly convey the possibilities of the genre.
Thomas C. Foster
author of How To Read Literature Like a Professor

About Fiction Gallery

Introducing Exceptional Short Stories Selected by New York’s Acclaimed Writing School.

Fiction Gallery features works by 25 authors, including such acknowledged masters of short fiction as Anton Chekhov, Dorothy Parker, John Cheever, Raymond Carver, and such acclaimed contemporary writers as Edwidge Danticat, Pam Houston, Ethan Canin, T. C. Boyle, Jhumpa Lahiri, and ZZ Packer.

The stories in Fiction Gallery have been chosen to appeal to all readers, not just the fiction connoisseur. Every work will hold the reader spellbound from first to last page, while also exemplifying the very best in literary fiction.

Aspiring writers who enjoyed Gotham Writers Workshop’s Writing Fiction will find this anthology an invaluable source of inspiration and insight. This gallery of stories presents diverse examples of all the elements of fiction craft and demonstrates how writers seamlessly sew these elements into unforgettable tales. As a bonus, the anthology includes original interviews with T. C. Boyle, Jhumpa Lahiri, and Hannah Tinti, in which they illuminate the process of creating a short story.

This book pairs very well with Writing Fiction.

Table of Contents & Excerpts

Starting Out: Stories About Youth

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A well-fed, red-cheeked young man called Nikolay Ilyitch Belyaev, of thirty-two, who was an owner of house property in Petersburg, and a devotee of the race-course, went one evening to see Olga Ivanovna Irnin, with whom he was living, or, to use his own expression, was dragging out a long, wearisome romance. And, indeed, the first interesting and enthusiastic pages of this romance had long been perused; now the pages dragged on, and still dragged on, without presenting anything new or of interest.

Not finding Olga Ivanovna at home, Belyaev lay down on the lounge chair and proceeded to wait for her in the drawing-room.

All the trouble began when my grandfather died and my grandmother—my father’s mother—came to live with us. Relations in the one house are a strain at the best of times, but, to make matters worse, my grandmother was a real old country woman and quite unsuited to the life in town. She had a fat, wrinkled old face, and, to Mother’s great indignation, went round the house in bare feet—the boots had her crippled, she said. For dinner she had a jug of porter and a pot of potatoes with—sometimes—a bit of salt fish, and she poured out the potatoes on the table and ate them slowly, with great relish, using her fingers by way of a fork.

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By our second day at Camp Crescendo, the girls in my Brownie troop had decided to kick the asses of each and every girl in Brownie Troop 909. Troop 909 was doomed from the first day of camp; they were white girls, their complexions a blend of ice cream: strawberry, vanilla. They turtled out from their bus in pairs, their rolled-up sleeping bags chromatized with Disney characters: Sleeping Beauty, Snow White, Mickey Mouse; or the generic ones cheap parents bought: washed-out rainbows, unicorns, curly-eyelashed frogs. Some clutched Igloo coolers and still others held on to stuffed toys like pacifiers, looking all around them like tourists determined to be dazzled.

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We watched our father hammer and pound, into our front yard’s ground, a hand made sign that said, in letters big enough for us brothers to read what it said, all the way down from where we were watching, down by the muddy river’s muddy shore: HOUSE FOR SALE. We’d seen signs like this sign before, sticking up from the front yards of other people’s houses, but never in the front of ours.

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It’s not only about looking good. If you’re just looking good, you’ll probably be able to get a cone or a soft pretzel, but definitely not an Orange Julius.

“Carrie,” Grandma says to me as we walk into the mall, “are you feeling like a lady?” The ceiling of the mall when you first walk in has mirrors on it, so you can look up and see yourself and whoever you’re with.

“Yeah, Grandma,” I say back. “I’m feeling like a lady.”

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Longings: Stories About Romance

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The remarkable thing in dreams: people say what he never hears in waking. Fat. They say it to his face, not behind his back, or clear of earshot. The word is succulent in their mouths—“faaat”—stretching out like the waist on his sansabelt pants. Nothing derogatory about it, only an unabashed honesty. On these mornings, for a few moments, he wakes feeling curiously relieved.

Clarence John Softitch, Pinky to his friends, at five foot eight and four hundred and eighty-two pounds on a good day, is fat, not large, big, or big-boned. Not hefty, husky, generous, or oversized. Nor robust, portly, or pleasingly plump. He is fat. Enormous. Corpulent. And no delicate euphemisms or polite evasions can relieve him of this knowledge when every movement, whether tying a shoe or climbing a short flight of stairs, becomes a labor of the heart.

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Chuey called me from the jail. He said it was all a big mistake. I said, Sure Chuey, like always, que no? What is it this time, weed or wine? He said it was something different this time. I said, You mean like reds, angel dust, what? Chuey says, No Dulcie, something worse.

I said, So? Why call me? Why don’t you call that Brenda who was so nice to you at the party. He said Dulcie. Listen. It’s a lot worse. I got to get a lawyer. Then he like started to cry or something. Not crying—Chuey wouldn’t cry—but it was like he had a hard time breathing, like he was scared. I couldn’t believe it. I didn’t do it, Dulcie, he told me. I didn’t do nothing. I was just in the car.

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You’ve come, finally, to a safe place. It could be labeled safe place, marquee-style in bright glittering letters. You’ve put the time in to get there. You’ve read all the books. You have cooked yourself elaborate gourmet meals. You have brought home fresh-cut flowers. You love your work. You love your friends. It’s the single life in the high desert. No booze, no drugs. It isn’t just something you tell yourself. It’s something you believe.

The man you admire most in the world calls you and asks you out to lunch. He is your good father, the one you trust, the one you depend on. The only one, besides your agent and the editors, who still sees your work.

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After the plague—it was some sort of Ebola mutation passed from hand to hand and nose to nose like the common cold—life was different. More relaxed and expansive, more natural. The rat race was over, the freeways were clear all the way to Sacramento, and the poor dwindling ravaged planet was suddenly big and mysterious again. It was a kind of miracle really, what the environmentalists had been hoping for all along, though of course even the most strident of them wouldn’t have wished for his own personal extinction, but there it was. I don’t mean to sound callous—my parents are long dead and I’m unmarried and siblingless, but I lost friends, colleagues and neighbors, the same as any other survivor. What few of us there are, that is.

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Those We Know: Stories About Family

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The young man in the new blue suit finished arranging the glistening luggage in tight corners of the Pullman compartment. The train had leaped at curves and bounced along straightaways, rendering balance a praiseworthy achievement and a sporadic one; and the young man had pushed and hoisted and tucked and shifted the bags with concentrated care.

Nevertheless, eight minutes for the settling of two suitcases and a hat-box is a long time.

He sat down, leaning back against bristled green plush, in the seat opposite the girl in beige. She looked as new as a peeled egg.

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The call comes in the middle of the night, three in the morning, and it nearly scares us to death.

“Answer it, answer it!” my wife cries. “My God, who is it? Answer it!”

I can’t find the light, but I get to the other room, where the phone is, and pick it up after the fourth ring.

“Is Bud there?” this woman says, very drunk.

“Jesus, you have the wrong number,” I say, and hang up.

I turn the light on, and go into the bathroom, and that’s when I hear the phone start again.

“Answer that!” my wife screams from the bedroom. “What in God’s name do they want, Jack? I can’t take any more.”

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In 1979 Griselda Drown was a senior volleyballer at Boise High, a terrifically tall girl with trunky thighs, slender arms and a volleyball serve that won an Idaho State Championship despite T-shirts claiming it was a team effort. She was a gray-eyed growth spurt, orange-haired, an early bloomer, and there were rumors about how she took boys two at a time in the dusty band closet where the dented tubas and ruptured drums were kept, about how she straddled the physics teacher, about her escapades during study hall with ice cubes. They were rumors; whether they were true or not didn’t matter. We all knew them. They might as well have been true.

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Pat and Clyde were murdered on pot roast night. The doorbell rang just as Pat was setting the butter and margarine (Clyde was watching his cholesterol) on the table. She was thinking about James Dean. Pat had loved him desperately as a teenager, seen his movies dozens of times, written his name across her notebooks, carefully taped pictures of him to the inside of her locker so that she would have the pleasure of seeing his tortured, sullen face from East of Eden as she exchanged her French and English textbooks for science and math. When she graduated from high school, she took down the photos and pasted them to the inside cover of her yearbook, which she perused longingly several times over the summer and brought with her to the University of Massachusetts, where it sat, unopened, alongside her thesaurus and abridged collegiate dictionary until she met Clyde, received her M.R.S. degree, and packed her things to move into their two-bedroom ranch house on Bridge Street.

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The Job: Stories About Work

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Those are the offices and these are the cubicles. That’s my cubicle there, and this is your cubicle. This is your phone. Never answer your phone. Let the Voicemail System answer it. This is your Voicemail System Manual. There are no personal phone calls allowed. We do, however, allow for emergencies. If you must make an emergency phone call, ask your supervisor first. If you can’t find your supervisor, ask Phillip Spiers, who sits over there. He’ll check with Clarissa Nicks, who sits over there. If you make an emergency phone call without asking, you may be let go.

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There’s a moment when you’re up on stage when you suddenly become aware that everyone is looking at you; that the entire room is totally focused upon what you are doing. In that terrifying split second your performance can crash to the ground or it can soar to great new heights; but the fact that you have the power to throw it all away is partly what’s so thrilling about being in the spotlight. It happens to every performer—I bet you that in the middle of the Nuremberg rallies Adolf Hitler was tempted just to spoil it all by blowing a raspberry and saying “Actually I’m gay and I’m proud.” But of course you never do shatter the magic because for that precious hour or so the audience completely love you and that is why being on stage is the greatest job in the world.

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I cringe from the heat of the night on my face. I feel as bare as open flesh. Tonight I am much older than the twenty-five years that I have lived. The night is the time I dread most in my life. Yet if I am to live, I must depend on it.

Shadows shrink and spread over the lace curtain as my son slips into bed. I watch as he stretches from a little boy into the broom-size of a man, his height mounting the innocent fabric that splits our one-room house into two spaces, two mats, two worlds.

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I tell this story not for my own honor, for there is little of that here, and not as a warning, for a man of my calling learns quickly that all warnings are in vain. Nor do I tell it in apology for St. Benedict’s School, for St. Benedict’s School needs no apologies. I tell it only to record certain foretellable incidents in the life of a well-known man, in the event that the brief candle of his days may sometime come under the scrutiny of another student of history. That is all. This is a story without surprises.

There are those, in fact, who say I should have known what would happen between St. Benedict’s and me, and I suppose that they are right; but I loved that school. I gave service there to the minds of three generations of boys and always left upon them, if I was successful, the delicate imprint of their culture. I battled their indolence with discipline, their boorishness with philosophy, and the arrogance of their stations with the history of great men before them. I taught the sons of nineteen senators. I taught a boy who, if not for the vengeful recriminations of the tabloids, would today have been president of the United States. That school was my life.

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Strangeness: Stories About Strange Happenings

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The line consists of an infinite number of points; the plane, of an infinite number of lines; the volume, of an infinite number of planes; the hypervolume, of an infinite number of volumes . . . No—this, more geometrico, is decidedly not the best way to begin my tale. To say that the story is true is by now a convention of every fantastic tale; mine, nevertheless, is true.

I live alone, in a fifth-floor apartment on Calle Belgrano. One evening a few months ago, I heard a knock at my door. I opened it, and a stranger stepped in.

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In the parking lot next to the bank, Harry Edmonds saw a piece of gray scrap paper the size of a greeting card. It had blown up next to his leg and attached itself to him there. Across the top margin was some scrabby writing in purple ink. He picked it up and examined it. On the upper lefthand corner someone had scrawled the phrase: THE NEXT BUILDING I PLAN TO BOMB.

Harry unfolded the paper and saw an inked drawing of what appeared to be a sizable train station or some other public structure, perhaps an airport terminal. In the drawing were arched windows and front pillars but very little other supporting detail. The building looked solid, monumental, and difficult to destroy.

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Alice Leung has discovered the secrets of bats: how they see without seeing, how they own darkness, as we own light. She walks the halls with a black headband across her eyes, keening a high C—cheat cheat cheat cheat cheat cheat—never once veering off course, as if drawn by an invisible thread. Echolocation, she tells me, it’s not as difficult as you might think. Now she sees a light around objects when she looks at them, like halos on her retinas from staring at the sun. In her journal she writes, I had a dream that was all in blackness. Tell me how to describe.

It is January: my fifth month in Hong Kong.

In the margin I write, I wish I knew.

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I left India in 1964 with a certificate in commerce and the equivalent, in those days, of ten dollars to my name. For three weeks I sailed on the SS Roma, an Italian cargo vessel, in a cabin next to the ship’s engine, across the Arabian Sea, the Red Sea, the Mediterranean, and finally to England. I lived in north London, in Finsbury Park, in a house occupied entirely by penniless Bengali bachelors like myself, at least a dozen and sometimes more, all struggling to educate and establish ourselves abroad.

I attended lectures at LSE and worked at the university library to get by. We lived three or four to a room, shared a single, icy toilet, and took turns cooking pots of egg curry, which we ate with our hands on a table covered with newspapers. Apart from our jobs we had few responsibilities. On weekends we lounged barefoot in drawstring pajamas, drinking tea and smoking Rothmans, or set out to watch cricket at Lord’s. Some weekends the house was crammed with still more Bengalis, to whom we had introduced ourselves at the greengrocer, or on the Tube, and we made yet more egg curry, and played Mukesh on a Grundig reel-to-reel, and soaked our dirty dishes in the bathtub. Every now and then someone in the house moved out, to live with a woman whom his family back in Calcutta had determined he was to wed. In 1969, when I was thirty-six years old, my own marriage was arranged. Around the same time I was offered a full-time job in America, in the processing department of a library at MIT.

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Sunset: Stories About Life's End

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It was one of those midsummer Sundays when everyone sits around saying, “I drank too much last night.” You might have heard it whispered by the parishioners leaving church, heard it from the lips of the priest himself, struggling with his cassock in the vestiarium, heard it from the golf links and the tennis courts, heard it from the wildlife preserve where the leader of the Audubon group was suffering from a terrible hangover. “I drank too much,” said Donald Westerhazy. “We all drank too much,” said Lucinda Merrill. “It must have been the wine,” said Helen Westerhazy. “I drank too much of that claret.”

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Knowing that Mrs. Mallard was afflicted with a heart trouble, great care was taken to break to her as gently as possible the news of her husband’s death.

It was her sister Josephine who told her, in broken sentences; veiled hints that revealed in half concealing. Her husband’s friend Richards was there, too, near her. It was he who had been in the newspaper office when intelligence of the railroad disaster was received, with Brently Mallard’s name leading the list of “killed.” He had only taken the time to assure himself of its truth by a second telegram, and had hastened to forestall any less careful, less tender friend in bearing the sad message.

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She wondered how many times a week he had to do this. Plenty, no doubt. At least every day. Maybe twice…three times. Maybe, on a big day, five times. It was the ultimate bad news, and he delivered it dryly, like Sergeant Joe Friday. He was a young man, but his was a tough business and he had gone freeze-dried already. Hey, the bad news wasn’t really a surprise! She . . . knew. Of course, you always hope for the best. She heard but she didn’t hear.

“What?” she offered timidly. She had hoped . . .for better. Geez! Give me a break! What was he saying? Breast and uterus? Double trouble! She knew it would be the uterus. There had been the discharge. The bloating, the cramps. The fatigue. But it was common and easily curable provided you got it at stage one. Eighty percent cure. But the breast—that one came out of the blue and that could be really tricky—that was fifty-fifty.

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That very singular man, old Dr. Heidegger, once invited four venerable friends to meet him in his study. There were three white-bearded gentlemen, Mr. Medbourne, Colonel Killigrew, and Mr. Gascoigne, and a withered gentlewoman, whose name was the Widow Wycherly. They were all melancholy old creatures, who had been unfortunate in life, and whose greatest misfortune it was that they were not long ago in their graves.

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Interview with T.C. Boyle

Interview with Jhumpa Lahiri

Interview with Hannah Tinti

Credits

Acknowledgements

Interview with Authors and Editor

Reviews

Students of literature or writing can easily open one of the yearly short story anthologies and find a story that makes them shiver, but what about the general public who has never read a work by John Updike or Annie Proulx? Gotham Writers' Workshop asked exactly this question and answered it with Fiction Gallery, a collection of short stories that emphasize the element of story in fiction, declaring that the art of short fiction still has the right to demand attention from the American public.

Fiction Gallery displays the entire range of the short-story form including in its contents literary father figures like Anton Chekhov and Nathaniel Hawthorne. Modern giants make their appearance too. The stories of ZZ Packer, TC Boyle, Anthony Doerr, Ethan Canin, Jhumpa Lahiri, and Thom Jones dazzle the various selections into which the anthology is divided: “Starting Out,” “Longings,” “Those We Know,” “The Job,” “Strangeness,” and “Sunset,” respectively. Each rings with strange power and grabs the reader’s attention, not with literature-driven stories but with story-driven literature.

Who can resist the postapocalyptic world of TC Boyle’s “After the Plague,” the child narrator of Frank O’Connor’s “First Confession,” or the singular voice in Thom Jones’ “I Want to Live!”? Those readers who love a mystery have plenty of pages in which to lose themselves, too: Hannah Tinti’s “Home Sweet Home” explores characters involved in a suburban murder; Jorge Luis Borges’ “The Book of Sand” reveals the chilling consequence of human curiosity; and Hawthorne’s “Dr. Heidegger’s Experiment” takes up the legendary Fountain of Youth and shows its effect on four elderly subjects.

The point of all of this, of course, is to demonstrate Fiction Gallery’s goal of bringing modern short fiction back to a “reliance on good old-fashion storytelling.” In his introduction, editor Alexander Steele comments on Michael Chabon’s involvement with McSweeney’s anthology McSweeney’s Mammoth Treasury of Thrilling Tales, stating that Chabon claimed, “literary fiction has become too introspective, too uneventful.” Steele claims, and rightly so, that Chabon’s contribution to McSweeney’s anthologies derived from a desire to find stories that “hearkened back to the outright thrills and chills of Hawthorne, Poe, and company” (Though Chabon was attempting more to create avenues from literary fiction to genre fiction, and vice versa).

Therein lies the only flaw of Gotham’s collection of stories: While it may raise the status of short fiction within the general public, it may inadvertently lower the challenge of reading literature. Some of us who are accustomed to reading paragraphs multiple times in order to understand the author’s meaning might walk away from Fiction Gallery a little unsatisfied, and some readers who have not picked up a book in three years may think Fiction Gallery has some amazing stories, chock-full of thrills and chills, but may overlook the literary aspects of its contents.

Yet if we take Fiction Gallery at face value, Steele is correct in his assertion that each of these stories possesses the highest literary quality. The stories here offer wonderful, attention-grabbing plots, characters, themes, landscapes, and voices—all elements of great literary fiction. Those who haven’t been able to get through a Best American series will undoubtedly cruise through Fiction Gallery, and anyone who enjoys a good story will love the stories that Gotham has assembled. 

Gotham Writers' Workshop, a well-respected adult education program for aspiring wordsmiths, has released a stellar collection of 25 stories to entice the public into reading short fiction. The lure showcases writers both well and little known, among them: Jorge Luis Borges, T.C. Boyle, Ethan Canin, Anton Chekhov, Edwidge Danticat, Nathaniel Hawthorne, Jhumpa Lahiri, ZZ Packer, Dorothy Parker, Jess Row, and Hannah Tinti. As with any collection, some entries will resonate more than others for individual readers. And while it is tempting to quibble over the exclusion of authors like Alice Adams, Amy Bloom, and Sam Shepard, it is hard to argue that the selections don't belong in an anthology of exceptional work. This reviewer's personal favorites are Boyle's "After the Plague," Canin's "The Palace Thief," and Lahiri's "The Third and Final Continent." The book also includes interviews with three contemporary writers, which allows the reader a glimpse of the creative processes that drive particular scriveners. Fiction Gallery offers both avid readers and those looking for a smorgasbord a hearty repast. Highly recommended for all libraries.

Arranged by themes, the stories in this terrific collection can be read both for enjoyment and for literary merit. They were written by established as well as recently published authors and include works by Anton Chekhov and Myla Goldberg. Topics range from crimes of passion to the humdrum of everyday life, and the tales' brevity and cutting-edge themes will appeal to busy students. Many of the pieces deal with contemporary issues like one-night stands (Pam Houston's "Sometimes You Talk about Idaho"), cheating (Ethan Canin's "The Palace Thief"), world destruction (T.C. Boyle's "After the Plague"), intolerance (Z.Z. Packer's "Brownies"), and the impersonal workplace (Daniel Orozco's "Orientation"). Each story is captivating; some are shocking. The selections are great examples of how writers use words to craft great literature. Interviews with Jhumpa Lahiri, Boyle, and Hannah Tinti provide additional insight into the writing process.