8 Queerish Short Story Books

I grew up writing novels, because that’s what I read — novels. It’s not like Beverly Cleary or Judy Blume published short story collections. But then when you get older and are writing things for teachers or judges or whomever to read, everyone wants you to write short stories. I thought for a long time this shift was a logistical thing; workshopping a novel or evaluating submitted novels to writing contests is unwieldy.

There’s probably some truth to that, but short stories are also their own thing. And they’re rarely popular like novels are, which is funny, like how poetry isn’t popular, considering everyone’s got these allegedly short attention spans. Short stories are also always uniquely literary. Unlike popular novels like The DaVinci Code or Gossip Girl, keen storytelling is never the hook — good writing is. It’s not like I’m glued to a A.M Homes anthology because I can’t wait to see what happens next, I just want her to dazzle me with her perfect sentences.

So short story books are a bit more niche, and by definition cover more ground — more stories — than novels. And maybe that’s why it seems it’s way more likely to stumble across a lesbian here or there in a short story anthology than in a novel. In general things are a bit more queer.

 

Some Queer/ish Short Story Books

 

Trash, Dorothy Allison

“I write stories. I write fiction. I put on the page a third look at what I’ve seen in life — the condensed and reinvented experience of a cross-eyed working-class lesbian, addicted to violence, language, and hope, who has made the decision to live, is determined to live, on the page and on the street, for me and mine.”
– Prologue to Trash

If you’ve yet to read any Dorothy Allison then you need to really just stop whatever it is that you’re doing with your life, sit down and approach this motherfucker. Trash, a National Book Award nominee, was published in 1988 (before Bastard Out of Carolina) and features 14 “gritty, intimate stories” and opens with ‘River of Names,” one of my favorite stories of all time.

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A Blind Man Can See How Much I Love You, Amy Bloom

“It is all small things, Jane knows. She is now practically a professional observer of gender, and she sees that although homeliness and ungainliness won’t win you any kindness from the world, they are not, in and of themselves, the markers that will get you tossed out of the restaurant, the men’s room, the Michigan Womyn’s Music Festival.”

- “A Blind Man Can See How Much I Love You”

Amy Bloom herself is a psychologist, a bisexual, and a feminist. So you and her already have three entire passions in common, which is not for nothing. The title story in this collection stars the single mother of a transgender son with a narrative that begins in the sandbox and ends with bottom surgery. In another story there is a moment when the lesbian’s best friend’s husband tells her he knows she’s been in love with his wife for twenty years, and she responds that she hasn’t been, because it’s true, and god, isn’t it lame how they just assume that. The lesbian says there was just no chemistry. I read the whole thing in one afternoon.

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Because They Wanted To, Mary Gaitskill

 

“Although she could be attracted to males or females, she had little luck with either; her shy flirtations tended to be muffled failures, which started, then ended, with puzzled indifference, embarrassment, and trailing irresolution.”

- “Orchid”

Gaitskill is one of my top five favorite writers of all time. She gets so unpretty, yet restlessly sexy and fierce, with characters who often exist on the peripheries of various sexual subcultures and are rife with self-destruction, emotional wastelands and complicated, torrid relationships with the regular working world. Seems like nearly half the stories in this anthology have some queer element. One story is narrated by a father whose lesbian daughter has just published a story about him in a magazine, the other tells of a bisexual woman who runs into an ex and is forced to confront long-buried memories of who she was and who she wants to be.+

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No One Belongs Here More Than You, Miranda July

“When we were fourteen we got drunk for the first time, and for about nine minutes, everything seemed possible and we kissed. This encounter seemed promisingly normal, and in the following days I waited for more kissing, perhaps even some kind of exchange of rings or lockets. But nothing was exchanged. We each kept our own things.”

- “Something That Needs Nothing”

Miranda July is bisexual, and you probably saw her movie, Me And You And Everyone We Know. Before this book came out, a friend I worked with and eventually slept with gave me “Something That Needs Nothing,” she’d read it in The New Yorker and thought I’d like it. I did. And then beyond that, there was this whole entire book. Not that they’re all about queer people — they aren’t. But they’re about weird people, and I think you, my loves, of all people, could appreciate that.

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The Ring of Brightest Angels Around Heaven, Rick Moody

“Marlene’s cheekbones were like the sharp side of an all-purpose stainless steel survival jackknife, and her eyes narrowed to reflect disappointment and loss, which, when combined with her biceps, her violent and toned physique, made for a compelling female beauty. Doris, meanwhile, looked like an Ivy League intellectual.”

- “The Ring of Brightest Angels Around Heaven”

The title story is brutal and violent and it’s about all of these junkies, burnouts, suicidal queers and otherwise deviant kid-like-near-grownups all connected to each other through lovers and heroin and kink. The lesbian part opens in a Meatpacking District sex club where Doris and Marlene, a lesbian couples, buy this dominatrix Toni for the night at an auction. An abusive love triangle evolves. It’s not for the faint of heart. I think this story was the first place I’d ever heard about nipple clamps.

The other stories in the book I could take or leave and have since forgotten. This is one to get at the library, then.

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The Whole Story and Other Stories, Ali Smith

I borrowed this from a friend who said she thought I’d like it and she was right because I did like it, and then I kept it, even though she wants it back; but mostly because I kept forgetting to give it back. It’s experimental fiction and Ali Smith is a lesbian. In one of the stories, a woman falls in love with a tree. It happens. I think Free Love And Other Stories has actual queer characters (this one may not, but generally gender is an afterthought), but I’d be lying if I told you that I’d read it.

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Out of the Girls’ Room and Into the Night, Thisbe Nissen

“Darcy presses her dry lips into the pad of Gwynn’s palm and lifts them again, like a swimmer coming up for air, and they sleep like that, tucked together, the soft pressure of assurance holding them to one another, as if that’s what safety is: a point of contact.”

- “What Safety Is”

Out of the Girls Room and Into the Night is one of my favorite short story books of all time. Nissen, a graduate of the prestigious Iowa Writers Workshop, explores youth with maturity and writes complicated, interesting stories about people who are sometimes college students; a feat which many consider impossible. The book is entertaining, expressive, brilliant and witty from beginning to end.

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The Safety of Objects, A.M. Homes

It’s actually bisexual author A.M. Homes brilliant novel, Music For Torching, that digs into lady-on-lady love; but her short story collections, even when lacking lady-on-lady love or overt gayness, have a queer sensibility vivid enough to snarl lesbian wonderwoman Rose Troche into adapting The Safety of Objects into a film (one of my favorite movies ever, also features a young K-Stew). Homes actually wrote a few episodes of The L Word back when it was still good. In The Safety of Objects‘ “Yours Truly,” the narrator literally locks herself in the closet to write love letters to herself and in “The I Of It” an old gay man ponders his life as he feels it slip away.

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Riese is the 33-year-old CEO, CFO and Editor-in-Chief of Autostraddle.com as well as an award-winning writer, blogger, fictionist, copywriter, video-maker and aspiring cyber-performance artist who grew up in Michigan, lost her mind in New York City, and now lives in The Bay Area. Her work has appeared in nine books including "The Bigger the Better The Tighter The Sweater: 21 Funny Women on Beauty, Body Image & Other Hazards Of Being Female," magazines including Marie Claire and Curve, and all over the web including Nerve, Bitch, Emily Books and Jezebel. She had a very popular personal blog once upon a time, and then she recapped The L Word, and then she had the idea to make this place, and now here we all are!

Riese has written 1761 articles for us.

52 Comments

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    MIRANDA JULY IS MY LIFE (full stop.)

    So are all these collections of short stories. Must read all now!!

    May I also recommend “The Mechanics of Homosexual Intercourse” by Lonely Christopher to all interested? Amazing book that just came out this year by a queer dude. So it still counts, right?

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    yesss the timing of this post is perfect because i just finished reading miranda july’s new book thing (i call it a book thing because it kind of is, half of it is like notes she basically wrote to herself while writing her movie but I DIGRESS) and now i’m reading the autobiography of alice b. toklas, and after this i think i’m going to need something queerer and something newer. no offense gertrude stein.

    so this is great! amy bloom is fucking awesome. good stuff.

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    This is great! I have never read any of these books, and I think as soon as the quarter is over and I get to fish myself out of theory-and-shakespeare land, I’m going to go buy some of them, so thank you!

    I have a recommendation to add! I read Kissing the Witch by Emma Donoghue a couple of months ago, and I really liked it. It’s a collection of traditional fairy tales, revisioned to include feminist and queer perspectives. It’s really cool, because reading it made me think about the way little girls are raised, and how we internalize gender messages we receive from cultural fables, and how the way we actually turn out might conflict with or amalgamate with or make us forget about those messages. She plays with themes of escape, agency, competition between women, and expectations of what work means with relation to femininity and class, by tampering with the characters’ motives, giving villains empathetic backstories, and giving them opportunities to make choice that traditional fairy tale girls aren’t allowed to make. All written in good prose!

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    Thanks for this. I love short stories and will try to get my hands on all of these.

    Good point about people supposedly having a short attention span, but short stories and poetry not being popular. I don’t get it, short stories are perfect for every occassion.

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    Ali Smith is awesome. Another book of hers, “The Accidental,” is one of those books I hated the first time I read it but I haven’t been able to stop thinking about it since, which is my primary benchmark for a good book. It’s not really relevant to this conversation because it doesn’t have any queer content, but. Yeah. Ali Smith. Definitely worth it.

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        I adore Girl Meets Boy. As well as being a gorgeous romance there’s a lot in there to with ethics and business and familial love. It’s the Ali Smith book I recommend to everyone.

        Also ‘Like’. I like the way Ali Smith doesn’t make it easy for her readers, there are still bits of ‘Like’ I don’t get but there are also passages which I can recite in my head – some of the scenes from Aisling’s perspective about desire and consuming friendships are just so beautiful, so spot on.

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    Ohh thank you very much!

    I love Ali Smith. I had not heard of A.M.Homes and I am really looking for a book to get gripped in at the moment so I may look into more of her things. Miranda July. Awesome.

    Also it feels like a lifetime since I read a book with any lesbian content, I read a few when I first came out but then searching out more made me lose heart completely for the Lesbo literature out there, after wading through pages and pages of predictable, tacky shite. However, I’m think it’s been long enough after seeingfour pages on amazon of Gerri Hill books with horrific covers and I’m ready to try again so any reccommendations would be much appreciated. I think I’ve polished off all the classics bt any lesser known ones would be aces.

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    I love Miranda July. SO MUCH.

    Also, if you’re looking for amazing short story collections that aren’t necessarily queer but are generally centred around women, Alice Munro is amazing. I think she might only write short stories.

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    I just bought them all. I’m almost unemployed, it’s this or watch too much TV, so thanks autostraddle for saving me from brain rot.
    Also, ‘More of this world or maybe another’ by Barb Johnson should definitely be on this list.

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    Speaking of queer books, I recommend reading Annabel by Kathleen Winter. It’s about an intersex child who goes through childhood as a boy, but upon reaching puberty, understands the purpose of the medication he’d been taking since he was very young, and decides to move to the city to explore his identity. It’s a really beautiful book, and I’d love to see a review about it on Autostraddle. Hint hint!

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    I don’t read a lot of short stories (but I did read No One Belongs Here More than You) but apparently I need to, because these all sound amazing!!! Now if only I knew where to begin…

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    i’ve read exactly half of these so now i’ll go hunt down the rest, thanks!
    i just read mary gaitskill’s ‘bad behaviour’ and there was a lot of queerness hovering at the margins if not central to each story. fantastic writing too, ugh

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    RIESE HOLY FUCKING SHIT THISBE NISSEN.

    I think I have gushed about her on AS before, but seriously, that woman changed my life.

    I wrote a short story for a school writing competition (and got to the semi finals!) about a girl who was in love with her best female friend from high school and confessed when they both came home for Thanksgiving break freshman year, and the way I described their kiss was totally inspired by the story about the girl who falls in love with her camp counselor and then later is dating a boy but is in love with her girl friend and they share apple pie in the back of a truck and kiss and she says her teeth felt hard like porcelain and I didn’t know what that meant yet–fuck, I mean, this was junior year of high school, I still thought I was fucking straight even though I was so obviously in love with Eliza, jesus–but I knew it was good.

    And I wore gauzy nightgown style dresses because of the short story you excerpted, I was in love with Darcy and I wanted to be her, and my mom yelled at me for going to school in “pajamas” but I didn’t care.

    And I added Oberlin to my college list because Nissen went there for undergrad.

    And I use some of her phrases, like “way back when in the now before the now” as if they are commonly used slang, because it’s just so perfect and it calms me and makes me feel safe.

    And I decided I needed to live in New York when I was 17 because The Good People of New York, one of her novels, is my favorite book of all time and I literally used to live my life asking myself, “What would Miranda do?” So I applied to NYU and I went there and now I am here.

    Riese what I am trying to say is I don’t know if I would be me if it weren’t for Thisbe Nissen. Does that make sense? I think it will make sense to you. Thank you for including her.

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      yes i loved that book so much. like i wrote it was really the first time i’d read someone talk about girls in their early twenties in a way that was apparently Iowa Writers Workshop-worthy — like before her, it seemed like everything was about grown-ups or kids or teenagers, and nobody wanted to touch the in-between part because there was nothing profound there. but there is and she did.

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    I don’t think I’d read any of these only because my reading schedule is so backed up – 2 yrs of books at least, fiction, politics and history – but I’d totally forgotten about Rick Moody. I read his early novels but after Purple America he kind of fell of a cliff for me.

    This is not a queer suggestion but my favorite short story writer is Katherine Mansfield, and thanks to her stuff being old enough, a full collection of her stories runs about $5-7.

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    I’m pretty sure Amy Bloom is bisexual—Wikipedia agrees!

    “Bloom, who resides in Connecticut, has two daughters and a stepson from her first marriage to a man who was a professor.[9] From the age of 13, she says, she knew she was bisexual,[10] and after her first marriage ended, she lived with a woman for some time.[9][10] She is now married to another man.[10]“

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      I think this is right. She was married to a man for a long time. Then divorced and got together with a woman. Then she was out, i guess, but I read an interview with her where she was kind of like, it was always a part of my life but didn’t matter. I can’t summarize exactly but I found the interview a little off-putting, although I do like her writing.

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    “Although she could be attracted to males or females, she had little luck with either; her shy flirtations tended to be muffled failures, which started, then ended, with puzzled indifference, embarrassment, and trailing irresolution.”

    Oh my god, how does she know who I am???

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    I LOVE A. M. Homes and Ali Smith. Ever since I read Homes’ The End of Alice I was hooked- not a book for the squeamish, though.

    I write short stories, but lately I’ve been tying them together, I don’t know if ‘novel’ would be the right word…

    Brilliant article, thank you!

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    Great list! I loved Trash, and can’t wait to read the other ones. I would also recommend “Touchy Subjects” by Emma Donoghue, in which the stories without “queer-queer” characters have questioning/sexually-fluid (whether they acknowledge it or not) characters.

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