Short Stories About Family

The major interactions in these short stories are carried out by members of the same family.

They deal with families coping with outside problems and with each other. They might also show the closeness of the family unit, the demands they place on each other, or the mistakes they make in dealing with each other.

How to Talk to Your Mother (Notes) | Lorrie Moore

The narrator covers events in the life of the protagonist starting in 1982 and working back to 1939. It relates significant moments with her mother, father, brother, and her interactions with men.

Read “How to Talk to Your Mother (Notes)”

Home | Gwendolyn Brooks

A family waits on the front porch for the man of the house to come home. He’s trying to get an extension on the mortgage payments, so the family is worried about losing their house.

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Sonny’s Blues | James Baldwin

The narrator, a high school teacher, reads in the paper that his younger brother, Sonny, has been arrested for dealing heroin. Their lives have gone quite differently – Sonny, a jazz musician and drug user, and the narrator, educated and living in a middle-class neighborhood – so the narrator feels guilt over not having been able to help his brother more.

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Penny in the Dust | Ernest Buckler

A father gives his son a shiny new penny. The boy plays with it outside, burying it and digging it up again, but one time he can’t find it.

Read “Penny in the Dust”

The Geranium | Flannery O’Connor

Old Dudley leaves his boarding house in the South to live with his daughter in her New York apartment. Dudley is unhappy with the change, and spends a lot of time looking out the window at a geranium on a neighboring windowsill.

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Royal Beatings | Alice Munro

Rose lives with her father and stepmother in a poor area. Her stepmother relates the story of a local man who gets attacked. She also threatens Rose with a “royal beating.”

I Stand Here Ironing | Tillie Olsen

While a remarried mother of five irons, she thinks about how she raised her first child, Emily, and what she would do differently.

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Rules of the Game | Amy Tan

A mother/daughter relationship is explored as the daughter learns to play chess and progresses from her first tournament at age eight and continues as she becomes a stronger player.

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Fish | Jill McCorkle

A dying man’s youngest daughter remembers his life, including time they spent together and his depression.

The Carved Table | Mary Peterson

A remarried woman has dinner with her husband’s family. She doesn’t express herself much, but silently compares their values.

Read “The Carved Table” (Pg 17)

Simple Arithmetic | Virginia Moriconi

A teenage son and his divorced parents correspond by mail. He has trouble reaching his mother, and his father nags him about various things.

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How I Contemplated the World from the Detroit House of Correction and Began My Life Over Again | Joyce Carol Oates

A sixteen-year-old girl relates the events that lead her to a house of correction. Looking for love and attention at home, she engages in petty crimes, which escalates to her running away.

Read “How I Contemplated…”

Why I Live at the P.O. | Eudora Welty

The narrator’s sister, Stella-Rondo, comes home with her husband and two-year-old daughter for a visit. The family’s communication is dysfunctional, with much petty arguing.

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The Homecoming Stranger | Bei Dao (Zhao Zhenkai / Shi Mo)

Lanlan is in her mid-twenties when she and her family get the news that Papa has been released from prison after twenty years of being held as an enemy of the state. The Communist Party moves the family into a bigger apartment. Lanlan isn’t eager to see her father, feeling alienated from him after so long apart.

Read here (PDF Pg 12)

The Leap | Louise Erdrich

The narrator’s mother, Anna, is the surviving member of a blindfolded trapeze act. Anna is blind now but still moves with certainty. The narrator relates some of her mother’s life, including a time when her home caught on fire.

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Old Rogaum and His Theresa | Theodore Dreiser

Mr. Rogaum, a butcher, tells his daughter to get home earlier at night, but she wants to stay out with her friend and two young men of the neighborhood. Mr. Rogaum threatens to lock her out next time.

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The Medicine Bag | Virginia Driving Hawk Sneve

Martin, a Native American boy in his early teens, visits his great-grandfather every summer at his South Dakota reservation. Martin and his sister talk proudly to their friends about the reservation. One day his great-grandfather shows up unexpectedly in Martin’s neighborhood in Iowa.

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In the White Night | Ann Beattie

Carol and Vernon have lost their daughter to Leukemia. Their friends, Matt and Gaye Brinkley, are having difficulties with their daughter. Vernon compares his and his wife’s situation to the Brinkley’s.

The Peasant’s Will | Antonio Fogazzaro

An old man lies dying on a hay bed up in a loft. A lawyer visits to draw up the man’s will. He can’t speak but is able to make signs to indicate his wishes.

Read here (Page 440)

The Farmer’s Children | Elizabeth Bishop

Two young boys on a farm have to sleep in the barn to keep an eye on the equipment. Usually the hired hand, Judd, sleeps in the barn, but he is in town on this night.

The Gay Old Dog | Edna Ferber

Jo Hertz is a plump, lonely bachelor of fifty. The narrator tells us Jo’s story from the age of twenty-seven when his mother died and she got him to promise to put his life on hold until his three sisters were cared for.

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Miles City, Montana | Alice Munro

A wife, husband, and their two young daughters are driving to visit the grandparents in Ontario. The wife, who is the narrator, remembers an incident from her childhood when a local boy drowned and was carried home by her father. During the drive, there are some squabbles and the family gets very hot, causing them to look for a cool spot to take a break.

My Old Man | Ernest Hemingway

The narrator tells the story of being with his father in Italy and France when he worked as a jockey. His father had an argument with some people after winning a race in Italy. In France he eventually buys his own horse to train and ride.

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Celebration | W.D. Valgardson

Mabel fries potatoes while Eric balances on a kitchen chair. Mabel says they need more wood for the stove, but Eric tells her to get it herself. Mabel has been drinking so she responds harshly; Eric has been drinking more, and he escalates the argument. Their arguments have turned violent before, and this one seems to be heading the same way.

Oliver’s Evolution | John Updike

Oliver was born later in his parents’ lives when they didn’t have much energy for raising him. They made some mistakes with him, and he has some close calls as he grows up.

Read “Oliver’s Evolution”

The Harness | Ernest Buckler

Art and David are father and son; David is seven-years-old. They are friends as well, and Art has never whipped his son. David seems keenly aware of his father’s moods. One day they fix the fence around the pasture, which tests the boundaries of their relationship.

The Old Dictionary | Lydia Davis

The narrator talks about a very old dictionary she owns which she is very careful with. It occurs to her that she treats it with more care than she does her son.

Read “The Old Dictionary”

The Father | Hugh Garner

Johnny’s father goes with him to a Boy Scout banquet, but his behavior at the event causes some embarrassment.

Read “The Father”

A Gentleman’s C | Padgett Powell

An English professor’s father is enrolled in his class. He feels his father had been hard on him so he returns the favor by giving him a C.

Read “A Gentleman’s C”

A Primer for the Punctuation of Heart Disease | Jonathan Safran Foer

The narrator explains the meaning of many different unusual punctuation marks that are used in communication, mostly with family.

Read “A Primer for the Punctuation of Heart Disease”

The Kid’s Guide to Divorce | Lorrie Moore

A young daughter is visiting her mother. They watch movies and have popcorn.

Read “The Kid’s Guide to Divorce”

Graveyard Day | Bobbie Ann Mason

Waldeen is divorced from Joe Murdock, the father of her ten-year-old daughter, Holly. Joe McClain spends a lot of time with them and wants to marry Waldeen. She is uncertain and finds the dynamics of shifting family relationships confusing.

Girl | Jamaica Kincaid

In this prose/poem hybrid, a mother gives her daughter some advice about how to behave and on becoming a woman.

Read “Girl”

The Jade Peony | Wayson Choy

The narrator, a Chinese-Canadian, remembers when his Grandmama died at 83. The family is waiting for some kind of sign, according to their tradition, that her life had ended well. He relates some experiences with her during her later years, including how they would go hunting in the neighbourhood for glass fragments and old jewelry.

Read “The Jade Peony”

Simple Recipes | Madeleine Thien

The narrator relates some memories from his boyhood. He learned a special way of cooking rice from his father. His mother worked at Woodward’s. His older brother is more distant with his family. They immigrated to Canada from Malaysia before the narrator was born.

Read “Simple Recipes”

Cages | Guy Vanderhaeghe

The narrator is seventeen and has just gotten a suspended sentence for obstructing a police officer. He tells the story of what led to this, including some of his childhood. His dad is a miner, and his older brother Gene gets in trouble a lot.

Read “Cages” (scroll down a bit)

See also: A Boring Story (Life)