Joyce Carol Oates has written many excellent short stories. Two of her collections, The Wheel of Love and Lovely, Dark, Deep: Stories, were finalists for the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction. Some Joyce Carol Oates short story collections are linked to below. I hope you find some great selections here.
Short Stories by Joyce Carol Oates
“By the River”
Helen, twenty-two, returns home after four months of being away in the city with another man. She’s waiting at the bus station for her father to come pick her up. She’s not sure why she left or why she’s coming back. She knows her husband will take her back, but she’s a bit nervous about how her father will react. (Summary)
Mitchell gets a call from his father-in-law, Otto, in the early evening. This is odd, as Otto never calls until after 11 P.M when the rates go down. He sounds more upbeat than usual. He’s often angry about many things and complains a lot. He warmly asks Mitchell about his work, his wife Lizbeth (Otto’s only daughter), and the grown grandkids. Otto’s glad Mitchell answered; he has something important to tell them and he’d rather not say it directly to his daughter.
This story can be read in the preview of Faithless: Tales of Transgression. (6% in)
“The Death of Mrs. Sheer”
Jeremiah and Sweet Gum, cousins, ride down a dirt road in a dilapidated jalopy. They’ve made some sort of promise to their uncle Simon. Jeremiah pulls into a hotel, which bothers Sweet Gum. He wants to get right to their business. They asks the hotel clerk how to find a man, Nathan Motley. Sweet Gum gets hostile during the exchange. Jeremiah wants to gather some information.
This story can be read in the preview of Extenuating Circumstances: Stories of Crime and Suspense.
Abigail feels light-headed as she’s driving home. Three-quarters of the way there, she sees a “Detour” sign. She thinks about ignoring it, but it’s not in her nature. She follows the signs through the country roads. She thinks about her husband and children and how she has lived her life.
“Detour” can be read in the preview of Night, Neon: Tales of Mystery and Suspense.
Lili Rose wasn’t allowed to return home until her father was weakened and dying at seventy-three. She was exiled at thirteen, sent to live with an aunt and uncle. She had four older brothers who were often in trouble. Things changed when a local boy was attacked and beaten, and died soon after from his injuries. Lili Rose overheard some conversation. She made a decision that alienated her from her family.
This story can be read in the preview of I Am No One You Know: And Other Stories. (9% in)
Robbie remembers when his cousin Amy died when they were young children. She had a doll, Emily, that Robbie felt a strange attraction to, almost like it was a real baby. It was the beginning of a fascination with dolls for Robbie, and he started looking for more.
This story can be read in the preview of The Doll Master: And Other Tales of Terror.
“The Girl With the Blackened Eye”
A woman relates what happened to her when she was fifteen, something she never talks about. She hasn’t told her husband or daughters, or anyone who knows her now. She was walking through a mall parking lot to a bus stop when a man started talking to her. He knocked her unconscious and threw her into a vehicle. He drove them to a cabin in the Sonoma Mountains.
“How I Contemplated the World from the Detroit House of Correction and Began My Life Over Again”
A sixteen-year-old girl relates the events that lead her to a house of correction. Looking for love and attention at home, she engaged in petty crimes, which escalated to her running away. Divided into separate sections, we learn of the events, people and places that contribute to her situation.
A six-year-old girl recounts an experience at a creek with a stranger. A man with a fishing pole arrives and starts talking to her. He says that in the city kids have two dads, one who goes to work and one who stays home to play. He could be her second dad. They get closer and he says they should keep their meeting a secret. She tells a similar story two more times, adding more details.
This has been printed as a short story in its own right, but it’s part of the novel Expensive People.
Joyce Carol Oates Short Stories, Cont’d
“Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been?”
Connie, a pretty fifteen-year-old, lives with her mother and twenty-four-year-old sister, June, who’s a secretary at Connie’s high school. Connie’s mother is critical of her but praises June for being so steady. Connie goes with June and some friends to the movies or the mall, but they often end up at a burger place talking to boys. One day while hanging out with a boy she met, another shaggy-haired young man speaks to her. Soon after, he shows up at her place when she’s home alone to ask her to go for a ride with him.
A painter relates his career path which began with stills, mostly eggplants and then moving on to a variety of vegetables. The family’s garden started to shrivel and eventually vanished. Next, he turns his attention to the family’s pet parrot, Sheba.
The narrator relates the family history of her youth. Her father liked to spend time on the roof observing all the construction in the Valley. The family was wealthy, but there was an economic downturn. The National Guard starts patrolling the area for feral animals and criminals. The Mother and Father go to the capital for a loan. Mother comes back by herself with the news that she and Father have separated. This leads to a series of unusual events.
“Unmailed, Unwritten Letters”
The narrator writes a letter to her parents; Marsha, a young girl whose father she’s having an affair with; and her husband, Greg. We get details of her marriage and affair.
The last time Cornelia and Constance Nissenbaum saw their mother was the day before she disappeared forever. She was late coming down to breakfast. They could feel something was wrong. It was time to leave for school, but they couldn’t go. They started searching. They found her lying on her bed, disheveled and breathing heavily. Their recollection and interpretation of the morning’s events would vary.
The narrator, Sissie, relates her experiences over four summers, from childhood to nineteen-years-old. The first summer takes place at a lakefront tavern. Her parents are drinking with old friends and talking about people they used to know. The kids want to go out on a boat. The next three sections also take place at this tavern.
John Reddinger, a married, successful man is having an affair with Annie, a woman who works at a gallery. John thinks about past mistakes, whereas Annie can live in the moment. They lose touch around Christmas; John can’t reach her at home or at work. He’s had other affairs, but he loves Annie. His thoughts stay on her during their separation.
“In the Warehouse”
Ronnie is thirteen and big for her age, while her friend Sarah is twelve and smaller. Ronnie causes trouble at school. Once she tried to get Sarah to corroborate a false story about a teacher, but she refused. Sarah does almost everything Ronnie says. Ronnie pinches her and rubs her face in the dirt. They sometimes go to an abandoned warehouse to hang out and look for things. Ronnie insists they go there now. Along the way, she says negative things about the people living in the area.
Silkie and Nathan are standing on a small bridge and feeling a bit awkward, as Silkie has some trouble. They’ve known each other since they were kids, and Nathan has always liked Silkie. They dated a little at various times. Silkie’s mother always liked Nathan the most out of the boys Silkie brought around. Nathan works six days a week at a gas station, and Silkie works at a drugstore. Nathan has an important decision to make, but they have a hard time talking about it.
I’ll continue adding more Joyce Carol Oates short stories as I find them.