American Short Stories

These short stories were all written by American authors. I’m only including one selection per writer, but they have many more you can read.

“Car Crash While Hitchhiking” by Denis Johnson

The narrator is soaking wet from sleeping in the rain by the side of the road. A salesman had shared some pills with him and, after that, a college student shared some hashish. He hitches a ride with a family of four.

This story can be read in the preview of Jesus’ Son: Stories(18% in)

“The Curious Case of Benjamin Button” by F. Scott Fitzgerald

Mrs. Button goes to the hospital for the birth of her first child. Mr. Button soon follows to see how everything went. Doctor Keene is upset and cuts ties with the Button family. The nurses are startled and unhelpful. He is finally led to his newborn and discovers the reason for everyone’s shock.

This story can be read in the preview of F. Scott Fitzgerald Short Stories.

“A Perfect Day for Bananafish” by J. D. Salinger

Muriel speaks on the phone with her mother about her husband, Seymour, who has returned from the war. Her mother is worried about Seymour’s driving and his general mental condition. Meanwhile, Seymour is on the beach, where he meets a young girl and tells her about the bananafish.

This story can be read in the preview of Nine Stories(22% in)

“The Last Leaf” by O. Henry

A few tenants in an apartment building are painters/artists. One of the tenants gets pneumonia, and she can see a vine from her deathbed window. She says she’s going to die when the vine loses its last leaf.

This is the fourth story in the preview of 50 Greatest Short Stories(46% in)

“The Yellow Wallpaper” by Charlotte Perkins Gilman

A woman’s husband, a doctor, confines her to the upstairs bedroom of their summer house. He diagnoses her with a “hysterical tendency” and “nervous depression”. She chronicles her confinement in her journal; the treatment doesn’t have a positive effect on her condition.

This story can be read in the preview of The Yellow Wall-Paper and Other Writings. (31% in)

“The Gay Old Dog” by 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.

This is the first story in the preview of 100 Years of the Best American Short Stories(29% in)

“Brothers” by Sherwood Anderson

The narrator lives at his country house, twenty miles from Chicago. There is an old man in the area that the people call insane. When the old man hears a news story he always claims to be related to the person in question. The Chicago papers are reporting that a man murdered his wife for no apparent reason.

This story can also be read in the above preview of 100 Years of the Best American Short Stories(55% in)

“My Old Man” by 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.

This story can also be read in the above preview of 100 Years of the Best American Short Stories. (65% in)

“Brazzaville Teen-ager” by Bruce Jay Friedman

Gunther’s father is uncommunicative. He believes that his father would open up if he was in a bad situation, but when he gets a potentially fatal disease, Gunther finds that his father remains stoic. Gunther gets the irrational idea that performing an embarrassing, self-esteem damaging act will save his father.

This story can be read in the preview of The Collected Short Fiction of Bruce Jay Friedman(25% in)

“The Tell-Tale Heart” by Edgar Allan Poe

An unnamed narrator describes how he killed a man; he tries to convince his listener of his sanity and wisdom. He believed his boarder, an old man, watched him with an “Evil Eye.”

This is the second story in the preview of Great American Short Stories(64% in)

“He” by Katherine Anne Porter

The Whipples live in poverty and have three children, one of them mute and mentally challenged, the He of the title. Mrs. Whipple hates being pitied, and takes every opportunity to praise the boy. She is always worried about what everyone else will think of her.

This is the sixth story in the preview of Collected Stories and Other Writings(84% in)

“A Rose for Emily” by William Faulkner

A Southern spinster, Emily Grierson, has died. She had been a recluse, so the townspeople are curious about her and her house. The narrator recounts episodes from her life. (Summary & Analysis)

This story can be read in the preview of A Rose for Emily and Other Stories. (18% into preview)

“A Piece of News” by Eudora Welty

Ruby comes in to her cabin out of the rain. She and her husband, Clyde, live in an isolated area. She hardly ever sees anyone else and is lonely. She has no T. V. or radio—the newspaper is her link to the outside. When she opens it up, she’s surprised to read her own name. Her imagination takes off.

This story can be read in the preview of The Collected Stories of Eudora Welty. (31% in)

“The Enormous Radio” by John Cheever

The Westcott’s live in an upscale apartment and enjoy music. Mr. Westcott buys his wife a new radio—big, ugly, and able to pick up conversations from neighboring suites.

This story can be read in the preview of The Stories of John Cheever. (49% in)

“The Barber” by Flannery O’Connor

While a man gets his hair cut, his barber ridicules his liberal views, especially his support of a black candidate in the neighborhood.

This is the second story in the preview of The Complete Stories(43% in)

“In the Garden of the North American Martyrs” by Tobias Wolff

Mary, a history professor of fifteen years, loses her job when her college closes. She gets an offer from a former colleague, Louise, to interview at a college in New York. Mary accepts the offer, but finds Louise’s behavior to be unprofessional.

This story can be read in the preview of Our Story Begins: New and Selected Stories(17% in)

“The Lesson” by Tony Cade Bambara

An inner-city class goes on a field trip to an expensive toy store. The children try to understand the differences in people’s wealth. (Summary & Analysis)

“The Lesson” is the first story in the Amazon preview of The Penguin Book of the Modern American Short Story(21% in)

“A Conversation with My Father” by Grace Paley

A middle-aged woman talks to her bedridden father about tragedy in fiction and in life.

This story can also be read in the above preview of The Penguin Book of the Modern American Short Story(39% in)

“The Ones Who Walk Away From Omelas” by Ursula K. Le Guin

The citizens of Omelas are happy, but the narrator is vague as to what exactly they have which makes them so. However, the people’s happiness depends on one thing, which all the citizens are aware of.

This story can also be read in the above preview of The Penguin Book of the Modern American Short Story(51% in)

“Bicycles, Muscles, Cigarettes” by Raymond Carver

Evan stopped smoking two days ago. He’s thinking about them all the time. He goes outside to call his son, Roger, for supper. An unfamiliar boy in the driveway tells him Roger is at his place with his mom. There’s been some kind of incident with a bike. He heads over to the house.

This story can also be read in the above preview of The Penguin Book of the Modern American Short Story(67% in)

“The Flowers” by Alice Walker

Myop is a ten-year-old girl who is out exploring the woods behind her family’s sharecropper cabin on a beautiful summer day. As she starts to head home she makes a shocking discovery.

This story can also be read in the above preview of The Penguin Book of the Modern American Short Story(88% in)

“Girl” by Jamaica Kincaid

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

This story can also be read in the above preview of The Penguin Book of the Modern American Short Story(92% in)

“Why Chicken Means So Much to Me” by Sherman Alexie

The narrator tells us the worst thing about being poor. It’s not hunger, as you might think. He tells the story of the time his best friend Oscar, his dog, got sick.

This is the second story in the preview of The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian

“Victory Lap” by George Saunders

Alison Pope, a teenager, daydreams about turning down potential suitors. She looks down on the boy next door, Kyle, whom she used to hang out with as a kid. There is a knock at Alison’s back door. Meanwhile, Kyle, who lives in a regimented household, comes home and finds the chore that’s been left for him. Eventually, he notices a van pull up outside.

This is the first story in the preview of Tenth of December: Stories.

“The Wedding-Knell” by Nathaniel Hawthorne

The narrator recounts the story of an unusual wedding between a man and woman in their sixties. Rather than being introduced by uplifting music, the wedding was introduced with a funeral knell instead.

This story can be read in the preview of Twice-Told Tales(44% in)

“Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been?” by Joyce Carol Oates

A rebellious fifteen-year-old girl encounters an older man in a parking lot. He later shows up at her place when she’s home alone to ask her to go for a ride with him.

Read “Where Are You Going . . .”

“Approximations” by Mona Simpson

Melinda, a teenager, relates events from her childhood. She and her mother, Carol, ice-skated regularly. She didn’t know her father until she was seven. He calls and invites her and her mother to go with him to Disneyland. He’s a waiter, and lives with three roommates. Soon after, Carol marries Jerry, a professional skater.

Read “Approximations”