As part of our series of author recommendations, this week we're hearing from Jim Breslin, whose short story collection, Elephant: Short Stories and Flash Fiction, debuted in 2011. Jim is currently working on a collection of interlinked stories about men and women searching for the American Dream while working in the TV studio of a home shopping network. Jim spent seventeen years as a producer and executive at QVC. He is the founder of the West Chester Story Slam and the Delco Story Slam, which include live monthly events and podcasts.
Introduction: We’ve heard that men don’t read, that boys don’t read, but it’s not true. With two sons in college, I’ve been thinking recently about short stories by men, short stories for men. It was during my college years that I first read John Cheever and discovered Raymond Carver. It was also during this time that I developed a love for the short story.
So with that in mind, here’s a few short stories that I’d recommend to my sons:
“Real Life” by Donald Ray Pollock
Simply read the opening sentence: “My father showed me how to hurt a man one August night at the Torch Drive-in when I was seven years old.” This story details a family’s trip to the drive-in where both father and son take part in a violent clash in the men’s restroom, and the father’s behavior careens from bad to worse. This story is funny until it isn’t, and it provides insights on how not to raise your sons when the time comes.
“Bethlehem is Full” by Boomer Pinches
This story studies the theme of shared accountability of a couple in terminating a pregnancy. After the girlfriend has an abortion, a couple takes a trip to Australia where the landscape appears as barren as their future. After a series of bleak and symbolic adventures, the couple rescues a stray dog in the Outback. When the girlfriend decides to return home, her boyfriend takes accountability for his lack of previous actions.
Really, I’d like my sons to read all of Carver. No writer packed punches like Carver’s fiction did when I was nineteen. But “Why Don’t You Dance” is the classic, the Carver story that my professor read aloud on my first day of creative writing class. A man sits alone in his front yard, having placed all his furniture on the lawn. When a young couple stop by, thinking it is a yard sale, he entertains them, offering drinks and dancing with the young girl. So spare and haunting, the story still gives me chills.
“On The Rainy River” by Tim O’Brien
From the collection, The Things They Carried.
This is about a young man due to report to duty for the war in Vietnam. Wrestling with his options, he leaves his meat-packing job in Minnesota, packs up and drives north. He stops just short of the Canadian border at a campground and spends the week contemplating whether to flee or be sent to war. It appears to be a question of how one defines courage.
“Killings” by Andre Dubus
Gripping from the start, this story explores it all - death, love, and the morality of revenge. What is the role of a husband and father in protecting his family? This story is chilling because of how logical Dubus makes it seem. This sad tale was turned into a movie, In The Bedroom.
Here’s some other notable mentions:
"The Killers" by Ernest Hemingway
"Goodbye, My Brother" by John Cheever
"So Much Water, So Close To Home" by Raymond Carver
"What We Talk About When We Talk About Ann Frank" by Nathan Englander
"Are These Actual Miles" by Raymond Carver
What are some short stories you’d recommend, or have recommended, to your sons?