“The Cheater’s Guide to Love,” Junot Díaz
Perhaps our favorite in Díaz’s new collection (though several of his stories, new and old, would do), this is not a nice story. Yunior, kicked out after he is caught cheating on his long-term girlfriend, tries in vain to collect himself, to forget, to move on. Though we have to assume he eventually does, the story ends with a moral destined to be scrawled on notebooks for many years to come: “the half-life of love is forever.” Poor everybody.
“Spring in Fialta,” Vladimir Nabokov
One of Nabokov’s most ethereal and beautiful short stories (and that’s saying something), “Spring in Fialta” is a gloomy émigré’s dreamy remembrance of a girl flitting through his life, a girl who “had always either just arrived or was about to leave.” In the end, the story is both a lamentation of her transience (and the transience of a million other things by proxy) and a celebration of the same.
“The Infamous Bengal Ming,” Rajesh Parameswaran
This story, which debuted last year in Granta’s Horror issue, is the newest one on our list, but it cut us so deeply that we think it will be on many lists of classics in the years to come. A tiger in a zoo, deeply in love with his keeper, expresses that affection in a sort of reverse-Lenny kind of way, before striking out into the world in search of more of that hot, sticky emotion. Brutal and utterly fantastic.
“The Great Divorce,” Kelly Link
“There once was a man whose wife was dead,” this story begins. It is not a metaphor. In this wonderful, beautiful little story, the living can marry the dead quite easily — but it’s the getting divorced part that causes problems. Whimsical but sharp and pointy in all the places that counts, it’s a perfectly Link-ian take on the classic breakup story.
“Heaven,” Mary Gaitskill
This is the most desperate kind of love story, though it’s not a romance. The twisting, debilitatingly realistic tale of a family trying to make sense of each other haunted us for months after our first reading.
“A Rose for Emily,” William Faulkner
Oh, Faulkner. This, this was his first ever story published in a national magazine. Ominous from first lick to last, this is a deliciously dreadful tale of obsessive, unchanging, deathless love.
“What We Talk About When We Talk About Love,” Raymond Carver
Carver sifts the idea of love through conversation, and then sifts it again, looking for its essence. After all, isn’t that what we all do, sitting with our friends around a table? Plus, in true Carver form, you just can’t beat this final line: “I could hear the human noise we sat there making, not one of us moving, not even when the room went dark.”
“The Star Café,” Mary Caponegro
In this surrealistic retelling of the myth of Eros and Psyche, Caponegro pulls apart sex and attraction and love and the other and the self, and braids them all back together like a very grown up Alice in a hall of mirrors. Other than that, we can only tell you to read it.
“How to Be an Other Woman,” Lorrie Moore
No one does self-aware self-loathing better than Lorrie Moore. In this story, a guide of sorts, she leads us through the complicated steps of dating a married man, from where you might meet him to how to fall apart to how to put yourself back together (somewhat) new.
“The Dead,” James Joyce
We know, people are always going on about this story, aren’t they? But that’s because the truth of it, that sickening realization that other people are essentially, deeply unreachable, unknowable, climbs into your bones and makes a home there, with electricity and running water and everything.