It seems like several of my students are working on themed or interrelated story collections, so I figured I’d post a list of some of my favorites. They’re in no particular order, and I tried to give some context as to how the stories are related. Feel free to add suggestions in the comments below.
Location-based Collections. Stories take place in the same location, usually around the same time.
“The Coast of Chicago” and “I Sailed With Magellan.” Two collections by Stuart Dybek. Stories set in Chicago’s South Side. I Sailed with Magellan has recurring characters.
Volt by Alan Heathcock. Stories all set in the same farming town, from the pioneer settlers to the present day.
The Circus in Winter by Cathy Day. Stories set in a fictional town in Indiana where the circus and its workers once spent its offseason. Technically impressive due to its range in terms of style and chronology. For example, one story, “The Jungle Goolah Boy” is told entirely in documents and lists and another, “The Bullhook” spans over a century.
Winesburg, Ohio by Sherwood Anderson. Stories set in the fictional town of Winesburg, with recurring characters. This collection loosely focuses on the coming-of-age of one character.
Dubliners by James Joyce. Stories set in “dear, dirty Dublin,” published in 1914.
Cannery Row by John Steinbeck. Interconnected stories set in Monterey Bay, California. One could argue this is more of a novel, as the characters recur in different stories and vignettes.
Other Themed Collections
Among the Missing by Dan Chaon. Stories with a theme of missing people. Among the Missing was a National Book Award finalist. In my opinion, it’s one of the best collections publishedin the past decade.
Olive Kitteridge by Elizabeth Strout. The title character appears, to some degree, in each story. Strout won the Pulitzer Prize in 2009 for this collection.
The Joy Luck Club by Amy Tan. Stories set alternately in China and San Francisco, all told in the first person POV. This collection was on The New York Times Bestseller list for 75 weeks and has been translated into 23 languages.
Tabloid Dreams by Robert Olen Butler. An interrelated collection inspired by wacky tabloid headlines. For example, the heavily anthologized “Jealous Husband Returns in Form of Parrot” and “JFK Secretly Attends Jackie Auction.” Although all stories are related by theme, some stories share characters and reference other stories in the collection.
Shakespeare’s Kitchen by Lore Segal. I haven’t read Shakespeare’s Kitchen yet, but I did read “The Reverse Bug” and loved it. Figured I’d include what the AV Club had to say about it. From their article “The 10 best short-story collections of the 00s”:
One of the prominent recent movements in short-story collections has been to create books of interconnected short stories, the better to lull readers into thinking they’re reading a novel. (See, for instance, Elizabeth Strout’s Pulitzer-winner Olive Kitteridge.) Lore Segal’s Shakespeare’s Kitchen actually almost succeeds at this task. While all the stories are recognizably stories in their own right, the characters are so vivid, and the events so interrelated, that readers get a fuller sense of both the characters (a bunch of snobbish intellectuals) and the setting (upper-class Connecticut) than would normally be the case in a work like this.
Best story: “The Reverse Bug” pits Segal’s often vacuous characters against the question of great evil, of what might cause a people to commit genocide. The original version won an O. Henry prize.
Cut Through The Bone by Ethel Rohan. A flash fiction collection with themes of literal and spiritual amputation. Precise and haunting stories about trauma.