It actually is a very daring job to take up; to list out a handful short stories and call them the best. We’ve tried our best to include the best of the best, a list that is bias-free; in no particular order!
10. Lamb to the slaughter
Written by: Roald Dahl.
This story is all about a heavily pregnant woman named Mary Maloney, determined to not forgive her dear husband who decided to divorce the poor woman one evening. Very tastefully written and presented, this tale by Dahl, especially the unpredictable climax, is bound to give you a very sweet feeling of victory combined with a hint of pity.
Best line: “He was oppressed, and he was afflicted, yet he opened not his mouth: he is brought as a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep, before her shearers are dumb, so he openeth not his mouth.”
The quote is actually sourced by Dahl from Isaiah in Isaiah 53:7. The setting of the line in context to the tale is something you should experience right away!
9. Old Love
Written by: Jeffery Archer
The tale is actually a little cliched in nature. A man and a woman who are academic competitors, initially display great detest towards each other but eventually end up falling in love because of all the similarities that they had otherwise earlier ignored in the spell of hatred. The protagonists of the story are depicted to be Literature students from Oxford, both inhibiting exceptional intelligence, giving the lit enthusiasts in you a double boost up while you read the tale.
Best line: “Some people, it is said, fall in love at first sight but that was not what happened to William Hatchard and Philippa Jameson. They hated each other from the moment they met. This mutual loathing commenced at the first tutorial of their freshmen terms.”
8. The Postmaster
Written by: Rabindranath Tagore
The story concerns an unnamed postmaster who is assigned to a remote post office in a small rural Indian village. The protagonists actually hail from and are used to the concrete jungle of Kolkata and feel like a ‘fish out of the water.’ To the post-master’s rescue, however, comes across a girl who takes care of him as a mother, despite being the age of his daughter. What happens next is a turmoil of human emotions and behaviour, to be read and experienced.
Best line: “O poor, unthinking human heart! Error will not go away, logic and reason are slow to penetrate.We cling with both arms to false hope, refusing to believe in the weightiest proofs against it, embracing it with all our strength. In the end, it escapes, ripping our veins and draining our heart’s blood; until, regaining consciousness, we rush to fall into snares of delusion all over again”
7. An Astrologer’s Day
Written by: R.K. Narayan
A very relatable tale in the Indian context, this story is about an astrologer who earns his living out of duping people, making them believe in things which are purely imaginary; telling them exactly what they want to hear. The astrologer mastered the art of lying over the years with experience. The build up of the plot is fascinating in its own way but the actual punch lies in the conclusion.
Best line: “He had not in the least intended to be an astrologer when he began life, and he knew no more of what was going to happen to others than he knew what was going to happen to himself next minute. He was as much a stranger to the stars as were his innocent customers. Yet he said things which pleased and astonished everyone: that was more a matter of study,
practice, and shrewd guesswork.”
Written by: Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
Otherwise popular and known for the Sherlock Holmes stories, Sir Arthur also has some other treasures in his name that goes less noticed and read. Right from the beginning, you’re actually told what the end is. It starts with the accused sending a letter and accusing someone else. If we believe him, then we know “whodunit”…the same thing if we think the accused did it. The plot is outstanding and exciting since you read from a different perspective and are bound to form an opinion and determine the real culprit. The truth, however, you need to read and find.
Best Line: “I have only you to look to, sir, and if you will clear my name of this false accusation, then I will worship you as one man never yet worshipped another. But if you fail me, then I give you my solemn promise that I will rope myself up, this day month, to the bar of my windows, and from that time on I will come to plague you in your dreams if ever yet one man was able to come back and to haunt another.”
5. Gift of the Magi
Written by: O’Henry
One of the all time classics, this story is always a reference when talking about utmost selflessness and love. It takes place during the Christmas time, the season of giving and receiving and revolves around a medium income couple named Jim and Della, madly in love. The married couple didn’t have enough money to buy each other Christmas gifts – what they do next to please each other is a tale that will be passed down generations to come like it already has from the past.
Best Line: “But in the last word to the wise of these days let it be said that of all who give gifts these two were the wisest. Of all who give and receive gifts, such as they are wisest. Everywhere they are wisest. They are the Magi.”
4. The Yellow Wallpaper
Written by: Charlotte Perkins Gilman
Flying the flag for feminism in this story, in this one, the author provides an interesting and to-date unsettling exploration of the oppression of women in nineteenth-century society. A symbolism of the emerging wallpaper pattern is felt with the narrator’s gradual descent into madness; perhaps, what makes this story so memorable effective and a must read.
Favourite Line: “At night in any kind of light, in the twilight, candle light, lamplight, and worst of all by moonlight, it becomes bars! The outside pattern I mean and the woman behind it is as plain as can be.”
Written by: George Saunders
Somewhat an unfamiliar name if compared to the others mentioned here, George Saunders knows how to twist profoundness with humour, delivering a piece so surreal, always with an emotional punch. The piece explores the perspective of poor vs. rich, and how the same situation can be looked at from two sides. A side shows one person who understands situations as an abuse while another sees the same actions as unending love. Such a bittersweet story, this one, as many of the best ones are.
Best Line: “They didn’t have to feel what you felt; they just had to be supported in feeling what they felt.”
2. Rip Van Winkle
Written by: Washington Irving Year: 1819
After a peaceful deep sleep in the woods, the ‘henpecked’ protagonist wakes up only to find his village completely revamped; also when the discovery strikes to him that that twenty years have passed. The story, in essence, is a metaphorical look at the changing American Identity following the event of the Revolutionary War. Must for lit-history enthusiasts.
Favourite Line: “I was myself last night, but I fell asleep on the mountain, and they’ve changed my gun, and everything’s changed, and I’m changed, and I can’t tell what’s my name, or who I am!”
1. Harvey’s Dream
Written by: Stephen King
You know when you’re on a list of best short stories, it is rather a disgrace to not include this phenomenal writer. This one has actually even been adapted as a movie. The way the story sets up, with the clues right out in front, sitting right there for you to stare at for page after page; it’s an escalation, a slowly dawning realisation, and when the knowledge sinks in, it is your undoing. It appears, for the most part, to be a happy story, until it turns the corner; read and figure it out for yourself. Thank us later.
Best line: “But the answer is easy. Because you didn’t know. You discarded most of the lies along the way but held on to the one that said life mattered.”