Exclusive: James Lasdun Shares His Favorite Short Story Bedfellows

“I’m in love with you,” she’d told him matter-of-factly, “and it’s beginning to hurt.”

So goes a climactic moment in the story that gives James Lasdun’s new collection, It’s Beginning to Hurt, its name. The story in question is barely three pages long, but Lasdun writes like an iceberg, meaning that those three pages represent just the one-eighth we can see floating above the water. Here’s what The Rumpus had to say about the collection: “The delivery of a revelation, the subtle gesture that shifts the reality of everything that has come before—these are Lasdun’s bread and butter, giving his stories their understated luster.”

After the jump, Lasdun shares his short story recommendations with us, including the one he calls “far and away the most powerful single short story in the English language written in the last fifty years.”

Sexy” by Jhumpa Lahiri (from Interpreter of Maladies) This is an amazingly constructed, beautifully written piece about the difference between love and infatuation. It gives the power and pleasure of a purely sexual attraction its due while at the same time subjecting it to a pretty devastating critique. The final scene is one of the most daring and original I’ve read in any modern short story. “The Secret Goldfish” by David Means (from The Secret Goldfish) I love this story of family dysfunction refracted through the prism of the increasingly filthy tank of a neglected but strangely resilient goldfish. It’s a brilliant governing image, very skillfully deployed, and the rueful good humor throughout the piece works as a perfect foil for the extremely dark undertow. “Fatso” by Etgar Keret (from The Nimrod Flipout) This three-page story about a guy whose girlfriend turns into a chubby, cheerful man every night, “with no neck and a gold ring on his pinkie,” not only says something fresh about the male psyche, but also manages to be sublimely funny in the process. One of the few allegedly “comic” short stories I know that actually makes me laugh. “Tiny Smiling Daddy” by Mary Gaitskill (from Because They Wanted To) Gaitskill’s acid wit and scrupulously merciless powers of observation are on superb form in this study of a hapless, hopeless father and his bewilderingly mercurial daughter. I don’t think I’ve read any other story where the main character is presented in so many distinct phases of development while remaining so recognizably herself throughout. “Hollow” by Breece D’J Pancake (from The Stories of Breece D’J Pancake) The late, great, tragic, wondrously named Pancake wrote just a handful of stories before taking his own life at an unbearably young age. “Hollow,” about a young miner in West Virginia at the end of his rope emotionally, morally, financially and just about every other way, is — in my view- – far and away the most powerful single short story in the English language written in the last fifty years. Faulkner’s richness, Hemingway’s tight precision, and a melancholy beauty like nothing else ever written… It’s about as perfect as fiction gets.

There you have it, five short stories to add to your to-read list! That’s in addition to the 16 in It’s Beginning to Hurt, of course.