Sabrina & Corina
In Kali Fajardo-Anstine’s debut collection, readers witness the dreams, fears, and truths of indigenous and Latinx women who are determined to find their place in a world and a nation still haunted by history’s shadow. At the intersection of economic disparity, addiction, gentrification, and intergenerational trauma, Sabrina & Corina’s protagonists navigate life in Colorado and the American West with resilience and wisdom. In “Sugar Babies,” a young girl reckons with the elusive ambivalence of her mother and is reminded that “sometimes a person’s unhappiness can make them forget they are a part of something bigger.” In “Remedies,” a beloved matriarch teaches her descendents how to soothe what conventional medicine cannot through patience, love, and the bounty of the earth. In the collection’s title story, “Sabrina & Corina,” two cousins grapple with womanhood and are faced with the uncertainties and dangers of growing up. Each story showcases Fajardo-Anstine’s mastery of prose and the vulnerability of her characters. A timely classic in the making, Sabrina & Corina is a crucial read for times like these.
Penned during Selahattin Demirtaş’ incarceration as a political prisoner, Dawn is a satisfyingly urgent and meaningful collection that gives readers an intimate glimpse at life in modern Turkey and the Middle East. From the very start, Demirtaş’ characters remind his audience that “we must restore literature its transformative role” and that “we have the capability to create a new language around the concepts of peace, democracy, and human rights.” Searing in an unshakeable way, Dawn is a compellingly kaleidoscopic reflection on grief, hope, and survival. Through the courage of a defiant sparrow, the sorrow of a mother on the brink of losing her daughter, and the impassioned desperation of young man, Demirtaş’ stories celebrate humanity and resistance in the wake of violent suppression and unpredictable fates. Insightful and profound, Dawn is an applause-worthy debut by an undeniably gifted storyteller.
Xuan Juliana Wang
An arresting exploration of selfhood and human closeness, Xuan Juliana Wang’s Home Remedies is a noteworthy debut infused with sincerity, heart, and seamless wit. Comprised into three parts—Family, Love, Time and Space—Wang’s collection includes the tale of a community and a family whose lives are irrevocably shaped by folklore, brushes with luck, secrets and unexpected endings, a young woman whose concept of permanence is challenged by a strange device, and a catalogue of cures for “non-life threatening ailments.” By examining the connections between fathers and daughters, the dead and the living, and one’s cultural past and unwritten future, Wang offers her readers with a tender yet pertinent meditation on history, desire, and belonging.
The stories in Ted Chiang’s latest offering is filled with subtlety, wonder, and depth. In the follow up to his 2002 debut, Chiang boldly teases the line between speculative and science fiction by reimagining life in distant futures that feel as tangible as our off page present. In “Exhalation,” an unnamed narrator reminds readers to “contemplate the marvel that is existicance.” “The Merchant and the Alchemist’s Gate,” Chiang’s readers are reminded of the power of the storyteller and forgiveness while “Omphalos,” explores how sacred acts like prayer can spark epiphanies and hope. An innovative and bold collection that will make you rethink what it means to be human, Exhalation is as satisfying as it is unique.
Joseph O’Neill’s Good Trouble is a mesmerizing examination of the existential demands of being alive. Throughout his collection, O’Neill’s stories urge readers to consider their relationship with others can reveal who they are or hope to be. Spouses, friends, and neighbors reckon with the aftermath of their choices and the unexpected outcomes of one small moment—even if by chance—can change a person. Whether it’s a father’s desperation as he hunts for his son’s stolen cellphone, a mother’s exhaustion over a quarrel with her son, or a couple contemplates their future after visiting a fertility clinic, O’Neill’s characters face their fears with bravery, however unconventional the circumstances might be. Infused with empathy and satire, Good Trouble is a delightful addition to any book lover’s TBR list.
Orange World and Other Stories
Within the pages of Karen Russell’s highly anticipated collection, the souls of trees can inhabit the human body, mothers make deals with the devil, romance blooms (and then falters) between a teenage boy and a 2,000-year-old girl, and the earth and its inhabitants are irrevocably changed by aftermath of climate change. Remarkably inventive and electrifyingly vibrant, Russell’s prose and the worlds it erects cast an inescapable spell over readers. In her expert hands, the fractured heart of a greyhound, an unruly tornado, and a haunted ski lodge become evocative metaphors for the complex and forever shifting nature of desire, survival, and the American dream. A speculative and profound wonder from beginning to end, Russell’s stories prove why her words will always be worth waiting for.
Someone Who Will Love You in All Your Damaged Glory
Relatable, fervent, and gut-wrenchingly funny, Raphael Bob-Waskeberg’s short story collection is a shameless rumination on postmodernity, intimacy, and millenial dread. Like the protagonists in Bob-Waskeberg’s hit series BoJack Horseman, the characters in Someone Who Will Love You in All Your Damaged Glory will remind readers of themselves at their best and worst. In “A Most Blessed and Auspicious Occasion,” a recently engaged couple juggle planning their wedding and the demands of tradition and strange rituals (one of which includes animal sacrifice), a small dog takes center stage in “Rufus,” and a frustrated employee at an uncanny theme park learns a life-changing lesson about romance in “More That You Already Are.” Imaginative, wry, and occasionally sad, Someone Who WIll Love You in All Your Damaged Glory is a collection that captures the zeitgeist of contemporary life.
Commanding and lyrical, the stories in Tatyana Tolstaya’s Aetherial Worlds are inventive and undeniably gripping. Reminiscent of earlier works like The Slynx, Tolstaya’s collection masterfully explores the forever changing nature of memory, devotion, and loss through the lives of her characters. Through the pages of “20/20,” Tolstaya’s autobiographically inspired narrator learns that if one is “patient” and “devoted,” “doors will open.” In “Smokes and Shadows,” readers are reminded that “love is a strange thing” with “a thousand faces.” The brief yet powerful musings of “Without” revel in what life would look like if Italy didn’t exist, how things might be different if “all roads lead to nothing,” instead of Rome. A dazzling collection that subtly defies convention, Aetherial Worlds is a celebration of embracing the unfamiliar wholeheartedly.
Look How Happy I'm Making You
In Polly Rosenwaike’s debut collection, young women come to terms with their own expectations, anxieties, misconceptions, and fears related to motherhood and children. A mother-to-be grapples with the decline of a beloved matriarch juxtaposed to the anticipation of her daughter’s birth. Within the episodic “The Dissembler’s Guide to Pregnancy,” a pragmatic narrator sifts through the reasons why she wanted to become a mother, confessing “I’d wanted a baby because I was thirty-six… and I was afraid of being old and lonely and having no one that belonged to me.” Together a couple meditate on how someday they will tell their child how “baffled,” “weak,” and “helpless” they felt at the brink of parenthood and wonder how long it will take until “before the word parents carries with it a sense of duty and burden.” Inarguably memorable, Look How Happy I’m Making You is a profound and sincere homage to adulthood, mortality, and motherhood.
Mouthful of Birds
Samanta Schweblin’s short stories are vibrant, inventive, and gratifyingly unsettling. Much like Fever Dream, the worlds in Mouthful of Birds are vividly eerie and astonishing. However dark the conceits of her stories might be, each narrative possesses truth at its center. As parents cope with their daughter’s strange appetite, children in a small town disappear into the ground, a woman encounters a mythical creature, and jilted brides collectively mourn the futures they dreamt of, readers will find humor, heart, and perhaps even hope in unusual yet transformative ways. Unnerving and delightful, Schweblin’s Mouthful of Birds is an applause-worthy collection that readers will find difficult to shake from their minds. Her stories prove that the power of prose is limitless.
Frequently scorned by their predecessors and emulated by younger and older generations alike, millennials exist at the often precarious intersection of contempt and fascination. For those of us who came of age in the wake of the Y2K scare, the dawn of social media, and the carnage of the global economic crisis, our culture’s fixation on what millennials are or aren’t doing can feel like an albatross more burdensome than student loan debt, the stress of adulting in the face of ecological devastation, and the instability of the gig economy. And yet, we as a generation, continue to cultivate and reimagine the possibilities of our future and the relevance of our past.
Despite the unbearable implications of avocado toast and the glowing screens that devour so much of our time, we’ve found a way to tell stories that bridge the gap between the literary past and what’s next. We’ve dared to create a canon of our own.
No longer reliant on merely being the new version of bygone literary giants, millennial fiction writers are boldly carving out metaphorical paths of their own making. In honor of their stories and the worlds that they bring to life, we’ve cultivated a list of short story collections for millennials that highlight the power of a generation that so many underestimated way too soon.
Featured image: @chalejoelthis via Twenty20