KJ Orr, acclaimed new short story writer, recommends…

(CLASSIC: from Complete Stories, Faber)

There are a number of stories I would count as favourites, and for very different reasons. However, O’Connor’s exuberant and unflinching take on a scenario familiar to most – a family road trip – was one of the first stories to make me fall in love with the short form. I find the boldness of her writing such a pleasure, and this story among her best for the startling way she maps out what is to come even in the opening lines. There is a sense of complicity with the reader, and a streamlined momentum to the whole – a quality of inexorability which I think the short story is particularly good at channeling. The story is a brutal, funny, heartrending shot of perspective on human foibles and frailty, and a meditation on finding grace in the darkest of places.

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(MODERN: from Everything Ravaged Everything Burned, Granta Books).

Wells Tower’s debut collection is one I read more recently and loved, and ‘Leopard’ one of the stories that stayed with me – relating a few hours in the life of an eleven-year-old boy, who is bunking off school pretending to be sick, with a stepfather he hates, a fungal infection on his upper lip, and a leopard prowling the county. I loved it for the freshness of voice, for the direct address of the second person perspective – which draws the reader into an empathetic allegiance with the boy, despite his flaws – and for the dark, tender humour that infuses each page. Tower’s writing is vivid and convincing, plugging the reader right into this stage of life (– the child aching to be a man -)in a way which seems all the more powerful for being momentary.

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