The first collection of short stories you should read this summer is Nafissa Thompson-Spires’ Heads of the Colored People and you should read it now, immediately; stop with the rest of these summer recommendations because this book is that urgent and critical. Seriously.
You’ve finished it, and you’re all torn up by the narratives Thompson-Spires wove that complicated our country’s racial fabrics. I was too. This collection had me riveted, laid out in the park in the middle of the day, clutching the cover, unable to anticipate where these stories would take me—within the racist inner-workings of our unjust country, within myself as a White reader, within the characters’ complex, layered inner lives.
Thompson-Spires is the voice for summer 2018: spinning her fiction at the intersection of police brutality, Black contemporary life, and a deep, unfurling humanity with an urgency that tells its readers to take to the streets, to hold the book in your hands as you shout: No justice! No peace! No racist police!
If Thompson-Spires’ writing is the megaphone for this loud, hot American summer, then Sara Majke’s is more of a whisper, a voice to narrate your bedtime stories, tales with a softness, a sadness. Carry her collection, Cities I’ve Never Lived In, with you wherever you travel, tucked into your bag, wrapped in your towel. Preferably you will be alone; wandering, near water, renting an Airbnb, puzzling over the sudden strangeness with which you have emerged into an unknown home, the immediacy with which that space has become familiar. Open her book to relate to yourself and your former lovers, to consider how we are sometimes strangers to our closest partners, even to ourselves.
Consider Sofia Satamar’s Tender a hallucinogenic dose of the other-worldly, and take them only as needed. You may need to read these one at a time, so fully will they roll you into an alternative world, into the radical reimagining necessary for these times. You may take them to escape whatever current reality you are in. Be warned that you will subsequently be immersed in a world of our adjacent future, foreshadowing the inevitable consequences of our current human impact. The hallucinations offered are illusory, although, not very pretty.
For those summer nights when you take yourself out in short shorts and heels to dance alone, to sweat and surrender, there is Carmen Maria Muchado’s Her Body and Other Parties. Keep it by your bedside to end the evenings with her queer tales of embodied futures. These stories – somehow both sexy and scary – or perhaps scarily sexy? Sexily scary? – evoke bodily desires and explore bodily harm. In them, we navigate a dynamic womanhood in the face of destruction, power, abuse, threat: from “Inventory,” a story that catalogues sex partners during an apocalypse to “272 Views of Law & Order: SVU,” an episodic, nightmare-esque play-by-play of the series epitomized by a devastatingly realistic level of sexual violence.
The slanted fairy tales of Lesley Nneka Arimah’s What it Means When A Man Falls from the Sky have been called magical realism, and they are truly both magical and real, so read these on your summer weekend mornings, across from your lover. Each story will attract and repulse you (try not to let this up-and-down overwhelm your love). In them we find families shifting, relationships breaking, women questioning—all things so common until, out of nowhere, a (proverbial and literal) man falls from the sky, and we are asked to reconsider the mundane anew.
Summer provides us with pause – this longer, liminal season – and snippets of respite: in line at the public pool, idling outdoors for public transit, or sitting at the backyard picnic table anticipating happy hour. For a collection to bring out with you to pass such waiting time, consider Belly Up by Rita Bullwinkle. The straightforward syntax and sentence structure may trick you into believing that Bullwinkle will provide a streamlined narrative, a typical plot arc. That she does not, instead dipping us into the immersive perspectives of her strange female narrators and the twists they encounter. You will laugh out loud alone. You will pass by a stranger reading it on the subway, and beckon for their attention. You will marvel at the portrayal of mystery.
Lastly, the short story collection to crack open while in transit is YZ Chin’s Though I Get Home: narratives spun out from our wiry protagonist, a young woman in a Malaysian detention camp, who moves seamlessly in and out of these stories. These can accompany you along your daily commute or international flight, tales that bring us both nearer and farther. They will add a heaviness to your summer; they will silence you. They will lead you, back to the streets, and the public sites of protest, have you considering who is American and who is immigrant, how the two identities are one and the same.