Emirates Literature Foundation Blog (ELF)

Short Stories And Where To Find Them

By: Karuna Luthar

A guide to their many uses

Short stories. Useful for a quick exploration, these narratives help writers and readers alike to discover their affinity with new ideas, different concepts; to stretch their boundaries and unsettle themselves. 
Some readers might say they are a bit of an acquired taste, that they don’t give you enough time to feel part of the scene. But the short-story genre has its own ardent fan-following, those who feel that a brief forray into these short tales brings a refreshing change — much like taking a coffee break. 
This selection attempts to put together a menu that might tempt everyone, either just to get a taste or to indulge whole-heartedly in an old favourite that may have been overlooked for a while.  

Tales of Terror

A popular choice of subject for short story writers is the supernatural. Personally, I feel this is good: ghostly, ghastly horrors are shudderingly enjoyable, but easier to read in small doses! 

Ruskin Bond’s The Horror Omnibus, with ‘some of the spookiest tales ever written  by masters of the macabre, ’ bears out this premise. The writers in the omnibus, experts in their own different genres, draw the reader successively into scenes ancient or modern, each with its own chilling ambience that surrounds and builds suspense to fever pitch. At the close, some stories end with a relief-inducing return to normality, while others  leave you with imagination running riot. One such hair-raiser, 'The Skeleton,' finishes with the ghoulish sentence '…they saw the livid marks of bony fingers round his throat, and in his eyes there was a terror not often seen in human eyes.

The other tales of dread in this compilation are no less scary, and no less riveting. A perfect book if you’re looking for an enthralling  and eerie evening. 

Fairy Tales

The fairy tales of old, combining fantasy and fear, were possibly kept short for the same reason: impressionable young minds being given a moral lesson should be exposed to the gruesomeness of potential consequences only briefly. 

A modern take on fairy tales, clearly sharing the same grisly outlook, is Angela Carter’s award-winning The Bloody Chamber and Other Stories. The first story, 'The Bloody Chamber,' starts us off on a dark, Gothic note with a murderous Marquis marrying a young, beautiful girl and leaving her in his castle, where there is a locked room that she is forbidden to enter. The suspense builds as the strong-willed heroine, unlike the naive princesses of old, is aware of her own tendencies and intends to explore the castle though aware that this could have horrific consequences. ‘I must pay the price of my new knowledge’, she says; with the reader feeling every beat of her heart, she struggles with her own inclinations that may be at odds with freedom and safety. 

The other stories in the book are in similar vein, with strong female protagonists, no less scary, and completely engrossing.


Apart from the macabre, short stories also give make for great comic sketches. An early adopter was H. H. Munro, also known as "Saki," whose popular newspaper articles lampooned pretentious figures of authority in the 1910s. In an alternate world, his satirical stories might perhaps have been the dinosaur ancestors of today’s memes. 

In the story 'The Lumber Room,' the young Nicholas is at loggerheads with ‘his cousins’ aunt, who insisted on calling herself his aunt also’. This shrewish lady tells him on no account to go into the gooseberry garden. Why? ‘…Because you are in trouble’. Nicholas rebels silently, thinking to himself that he ‘felt perfectly capable of being in trouble and in a gooseberry garden at the same time.’ 

Our hero then uses a  hilarious strategy to  get the better of his aunt when she calls for him to come into the same ‘forbidden’ gooseberry garden and help her out of the water-tank. The story can’t fail to make one laugh,  and perhaps remember past transgressions as well! The rest of the collection, Beasts and Super Beasts, is equally funny, with over thirty tales of humour to enjoy.

A Modern Anthology

For those who like a current day humorous read, the book One More Thing: Stories and Other Stories by B. J. Novak is an entertaining compilation, with the stories giving us the full benefit of the author’s original, witty viewpoint. 

The stories range across different themes, some comical, some realistic. 'The Rematch,' for instance, is about the Hare who lost the race in Aesop’s famous fable. In Novak’s sequel, the Hare  is obsessed with regaining his lost reputation, pulls himself out of depression to challenge the Tortoise once again and ultimately wins, creating a new motto : “...slow and steady wins the race, till truth and talent claim their place”.

Novak, well-known for his association with the television sitcom The Office, wrote this New York Times best seller as his debut work of fiction. The book has over 60 vignettes, some as short as a few lines, and each a shrewd portrayal of feelings and behaviour. 

Immigrant Tales

The Pulitzer Prize winning short story collection Good Scent From a Strange Mountain by Robert Olen Butler, has gentle, realistic stories of Vietnamese immigrants who have come to the state of Louisiana in USA. Each story depicts a different experience with identity, culture and relationships. 

One immediately empathizes with Thieu in the story 'Crickets,' who feels the immigrant’s urge to share and impart a youthful experience of playing a game to his child, thus building bonds with himself as well as the home country. Full of anticipation, he introduces the activity: they are to capture two crickets and get the creatures to do battle. Not unexpectedly, his American-born son Bill has a lukewarm reaction: ‘ “Sure, Pop. ” He said, though there was a certain suspicion in his voice, like he didn’t trust me on the subject of fun.’ 

In a similar vein, the encounters of individuals in the different stories remind one of reactions one has either seen or felt. The characters themselves are based on the author’s own experiences when he served in the US Army in Vietnam, contributing to making this an insightful and heart-warming set of stories.

And so much more...

Crowding into my mind are other favourites: R K Narayan and his Malgudi Days, O Henry  whose stories include The Gift of the Magi,  the vet James Herriott and his tales of Favourite Dog Stories, and Maeve Binchy with her uplifting This Year It Will be Different.  So many choices to explore and experience!

For the time being, here’s a shout-out to short-story writers who take brevity and wit, add their unique thought and insight, and create a lasting enjoyment for their readers!

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Karuna Luthar is a freelance writer on anything that catches her imagination. Her motto is ‘Grey hair, grey cells’, signifying her belief that growing older brings with it the enthusiasm to explore old and new delights in every aspect of life. Karuna’s other passion is mentoring social enterprises to improve their impact and effectiveness, an area she has actively participated in throughout her career. She is a long-standing Board Member for the India arm of  international NGO Operation Eyesight and previously spent  a number of years in the corporate sector, working with international banks and consulting companies.