Short Story lovers discussion

First-person short stories

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message 1: by David (new)

David | 29 comments Mod
Hey, folks -- I'm wondering if any of you have recommendations for really great short stories that are told in the first person, ones with especially memorable first-person narrators -- either because the voice is unusually strong/captivating or because the narrator is talking actively to the reader (or someone else), spouting off, maybe trying hard to convince the listener of something, or all of these things. I'm interested in first-person-plural stories as well. Any recommendations?

message 2: by Geoff (new)

Geoff Wyss | 171 comments George Saunders has some pretty interesting (if somewhat repetitive) first-person narrators. (I'm not at home with my books to be able to give titles, but Pastoralia and Civilwarland in Bad Decline are both good books.) I'm guessing you've read Saunders before and have an opinion about him already.

I also liked Rebecca Curtis's Twenty Grand--can't remember whether all the stories are in first person, but my favorites are.

David Bezmozgis's Natasha also comes to mind.

Of course, there are the classics (read: stories I'm tired of teaching and thinking about), like "Cathedral" and "A&P" and "The Tell-Tale Heart," but those are obvious, and I know you're familiar with them.

Not to divert this into a writers' discussion, but I sense something more than a reader's interest in your question. Are you trying to think your way through something you're writing?

message 3: by David (new)

David | 29 comments Mod
Thank you, Geoff! Yes -- this is about something I'm writing -- but it's not a single piece -- it's a collection I'm working on. I'm trying to read just a huge amount as food for creative thought.

I do have Saunders on my list, and some of the others as well. But do you have a particular Curtis story in mind?

message 4: by Betsy (new)

Betsy Robinson (Betsy_Robinson) Per my earlier post, "The Things They Carried" by Tim O'Brien. It's a series of short stories that are tied together to effectively make a novel-like book. Amazing.

message 5: by Geoff (new)

Geoff Wyss | 171 comments I'm at work and don't have my books at hand (I don't have the internet at home), so I can't dredge up any particular Curtis titles. Amazon putatively lets one "search inside" Twenty Grand, but the only first page that isn't copyright protected is that of "Hungry Self," which is one of the stories I'm thinking of. (It was first published in the New Yorker, if I remember correctly.)

Oh, also "Love" and "Fairy Tale" come to mind from Butler's Good Scent from a Strange Mountain. But this is another book I'm guessing you've read.

message 6: by David (new)

David | 29 comments Mod
Thanks, folks -- this is all really helpful.

message 7: by Kristina (new)

Kristina Jackson | 5 comments Hi

I've written a series of short stories. Some of which are in the first person. I am just working on another collection again a mixture.

message 8: by David (new)

David | 29 comments Mod
Yes -- most collections are a mixture, I think -- often that variety is a good thing for the reader!

message 9: by Betsy (new)

Betsy Robinson (Betsy_Robinson) Since Kristina said it, I'll self-promote too. I wrote (and self-published because it's completely uncommercial) an anthology of stories and plays ( Girl Stories & Game Plays ) which has a mix not only of first and third person, but of stories and dramatic works. Some of the stories are connected under umbrella titles. Probably this is not right for your purposes, Tim. If you want a riveting story, at the risk of being annoying, I'll again recommend Tim O'Brien's "The Things They Carried." Especially the story "On the Rainy River" about his experience deciding whether or not to flee the Vietnam draft.

message 10: by David (new)

David | 29 comments Mod
Thanks, Betsy -- that's definitely a help!

message 11: by Geoffrey (new)

Geoffrey | 132 comments I received a complimentary issue of the Columbia College (Illinois)literary mag a year ago and all the shorts were first persons. After the first one, interesting and written by the editor, the consequent were all flat. I ended up wasting the mag.

Reviewing my own work, I realized that too many are in the first person. I recall several editors in their submission guidelines warning against the first. So I now question, why write in the first if you don`t have to?

message 12: by David (new)

David | 29 comments Mod
Well, you have to write what's urgent for you to write -- not because an editor likes or doesn't like it. To my mind, first person is only bad if it doesn't work.

message 13: by Geoff (new)

Geoff Wyss | 171 comments Geoffrey,

I think the compelling reason to write in the first person is that it's the human voice at its most direct, the I am of existence cast in words.

David, here are the specific titles I couldn't supply above. I think all of these do something successful and interesting with the first person:

1. "The Wavemaker Falters" and "Offloading for Mrs. Schwartz" from Civilwarland in Bad Decline by George Saunders.

2. "Summer with Twins" and "Big Bear, California" from Twenty Grand by Rebecca Curtis.

3. "Me and Miss Mandible," "The School," and "The Great Hug" from 60 Stories by Donald Barthelme.

4. The title story from Steve Almond's My Life in Heavy Metal.

message 14: by David (new)

David | 29 comments Mod
Thank you!

message 15: by Geoffrey (new)

Geoffrey | 132 comments Geoff

I`m not sure of this but I`m going to say it anyway. I believe unless the first person narrative is truly heartfelt, it`s weakness will be doubly faulted. Hold up a poor third person narrative up against a poor first, and it will come out the winner by far as there is no pretension to authenticity or directness.

message 16: by Kristina (new)

Kristina Jackson | 5 comments David, I think you are right. I for one prefer reading a collection of shorts which are mixture of first person and third person.

message 17: by Geoff (new)

Geoff Wyss | 171 comments Geoffrey

I don't think I'd agree with that. I'm perhaps speaking more as a writer here than as a reader, but the three words you used--'heartfelt,' 'authentic,' 'direct'--are qualities I demand as much from a 3rd-person story as from a 1st.

I would agree (again as a writer) that there's an extra magnitude of difficulty in getting the voice just right in a first-person story and that, if the voice isn't exactly right, a 1st-person story will crumble more quickly and disastrously than a 3rd-person story.

message 18: by Geoffrey (new)

Geoffrey | 132 comments I believe that was the point that I was trying to make, namesake. Thanks, you put it more succinctly.

message 19: by Geoff (new)

Geoff Wyss | 171 comments I like what it feels like to agree. It doesn't happen to me too often in this group.

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