From parental love to an unrequited crush, one-night stands to happy marriages, apocalyptic compromises to doomed affairs, mistakes to soul mates, these 11 short stories explore different kinds of love between people. Sometimes it ends with love reaffirmed, sometimes it ends with love lost, but each has something to tell us about what love means.
“Edison, New Jersey”
Drown by Junot Diaz
“Sometimes you just have to try, even if you know it won’t work.”
A pool table deliveryman helps a beautiful woman leave her rich boyfriend, and fails to hold her hand.
Unclean Jobs for Women and Girls by Alissa Nutting
“Since we’re about to be eaten, I lower my standards and choose to be bold.”
In the opening story from Nutting’s debut collection, a woman literally boiling to death in a pot finds someone to spend the rest of her life with. As the rest of her life will last minutes, she prioritizes proximity over other ideals.
“Boys and Girls Like You and Me”
Boys and Girls Like You and Me, Aryn Kyle
“You ended up here because you didn’t care where you ended up, because you were selfish or impulsive or naive, because you made a bad decision, not once, but again and again and again and again.”
As she waits for her married lover to visit her miserable apartment, a woman – paid to write essays for high schoolers for a “cheater website” – befriends a teenage girl in the building.
In Persuasion Nation by George Saunders
“…I will turn to her and say, Honey, uh, honey, there is a certain feeling but I cannot name it and cannot cite a precedent-type feeling, but trust me, dearest, wow, do I ever feel it for you right now.”
A teenage couple, Jon and Carolyn, are employed as “TrendSetters & TasteMakers,” a cushy job testing various products. When Carolyn announces she’s pregnant and wants to go live a normal life, Jon must decide whether to leave the life of luxury to be with her and their child.
“A Father’s Story”
The Times Are Never So Bad by Andre Dubus
“I tell Him no, it is not that I love them less, but that I could bear the pain of watching and knowing my sons’ pain, could bear it with pride as they took the whip and nails. But You never had a daughter and, if You had, You could not have borne her passion.”
Sometimes the most intensely felt love is not romantic. A father explains to God why he helps his daughter cover up a hit-and-run. He admits he would have taken a son to the police, but that a daughter demands a different protection.
“Something That Needs Nothing”
No One Belongs Here More Than You by Miranda July
“One of us had always been in love with the other. One of us lived in a perpetual state of longing.”
Teenage lesbians run away to Portland, Oregon, where they build a basement in their loft apartment and struggle to make ends meet. When one proposes working at a peep show to earn money, the other threatens to leave.
Goodbye Columbus and Five Short Stories by Philip Roth
“The first time I saw Brenda she asked me to hold her glasses.”
A classic short story of a summer affair between a poor boy and a rich girl, and her parent’s disapproval.
Dubliners by James Joyce
“I had never spoke to her, except for a few casual words, and yet her name was like a summons to all my foolish blood.”
The title references a bazaar, where a young boy stakes all of his hopes of winning the girl on finding the right gift for her; but the reality is drastically disappointing compared to his dreams.
“Sluts at Heart”
What’s Important Is Feeling by Adam Wilson
“I didn’t intend to act on those feelings, but there was that underlying want: to check another box, check into another body, fold yourselves into what might, this time, make a whole.”
The narrator and his long-term girlfriend are comfortable, happy on paper, everyone expects them to get engaged soon, but they both know he has a thing for his dying friend’s girlfriend. Not that he would act on it, but he acknowledges that he thinks about it sometimes.
Don’t Cry by Mary Gaitskill
“He felt like a man in a small boat under which a huge sea creature has passed, causing the boat to pitch gently. Like a man in a boat, he could chase it or run from it, and he picked chase.”
During a one-night stand, a musician accidentally steals a piece of a girl’s soul. Literally.
“A Choice of Accommodations”
Unaccustomed Earth by Jhumpa Lahiri
“Wasn’t it terrible that after all the work one put into finding a person to spend one’s life with, after making a family with that person, even in spite of missing that person, as Amit missed Megan night after night, that solitude was what one relished the most, the only thing that, even in fleeting, diminished doses, kept one sane?”
A long-married couple attends an out-of-town wedding and attempts to make it a romantic weekend. The husband admits that even though he loves his wife and family, he relishes the rare moment to himself more than he feels he should admit.