Short Stories About Life

These stories will feature characters coping with the uncertainties of life, as well as those contemplating their lives, and those experiencing dissatisfaction with life. It also includes narratives that cover events that occur at different points in a person’s life.

Frankly, some of the stories on this page are here because I wasn’t sure what else to do with them. Some stories have so much going on in them, they just seem like they’re about living and being a person. See also:

Short Stories About Life

“Mortals” by Tobias Wolff

The narrator gets called in to the metro editor’s office at the newsroom. Also present are Mr. and Mrs. Givens. The editor reads an obituary the narrator had written about Mr. Givens. He wants to know how this happened. (Summary)

Some of this story can be read in the preview of The Night In Question: Stories. (50% in)

The Eighty-Yard Run | Irwin Shaw

Christian Darling thinks about the time he ran for eighty yards in football practice at Midwestern University. He also thinks back on his college sweetheart, Louise, whom he married. He thinks about the wrong turns his life has taken.

This story can be read in the preview of Short Stories: Five Decades.

“Significant Moments in the Life of My Mother” by Margaret Atwood

The narrator relates episodes from her mother’s life starting back when she was a little girl. Her father was a country doctor and traveled by horse and buggy. She could hear the groans and screams of injured people who came to their house. Her father also invested his sister’s savings in a muskrat farm, but they were all accidentally poisoned. There were many other notable events in her life.

This story can be read in the preview of Bluebeard’s Egg(14% in)

Angel’s Laundromat by Lucia Berlin

Lucia and a tall, old Indian man go to the same laundromat. He sits sipping whiskey and looking at her hands in the mirror. Eventually, they interact a bit. There’s a closer and nicer laundromat to Lucia, but she keeps going to this one.

This story can be read in the preview of A Manual for Cleaning Women: Selected Stories.

“Mother” | Sherwood Anderson

Elizabeth and Tom Willard run a shabby boarding house. It’s always on the verge of failure. Elizabeth, gaunt and listless, does the work of a chambermaid. Tom is a prominent Democrat in a Republican community. He views himself as a success even though he’s not. Elizabeth doesn’t want her son, George, to be a drab figure nor does she want him to be really successful.

This story can be read in the preview of Collected Stories.

The Tiredness of Rosabel by Katherine Mansfield

After she gets off work as a clerk at a hat counter, Rosabel thinks about her life and the customers she dealt with at the shop. Among them was a young woman trying on hats with her boyfriend. Rosa imagines what her life would be like if she were her.

This is the first story in the preview of Stories.

“Nothing to Declare” by Richard Ford

Sandy McGuinness is having drinks at a bar along with many other lawyers. A woman, Miss Nail, is attracting a lot of attention on the other side of the room. They make eye contact a few times. Sandy recognizes her as Barbara,  a woman from his college days with whom he took a spring break adventure in Reykjavik.

This story can be read in the preview of Sorry for Your Trouble(10% into preview)

“Terminal” by Lavie Tidhar

Some people have chosen to leave Earth for Mars in cheap, individual, one-way spaceships. They have various reasons—some are sick, some have nothing to lose, some are loners. The occupants are able to communicate along the way.

This story can be read in the preview of The Year’s Best Science Fiction: Thirty-Fourth Annual Collection(46% in)

“Change of Life” by Lawrence Block

When Royce Arnstetter turns thirty-eight, he feels a change. He believes he’s lived half his life and hasn’t done anything. The thought won’t go away. He’s so distracted by it that he stops shaving halfway through. He decides to do something drastic.

This story can be read in the preview of Enough Rope(64% in)

“Spring Rain” by Bernard Malamud

George Fisher lies awake thinking about an accident he saw earlier. A man was hit and killed by car. He was stoic during his final minutes of life. George has sleepless nights sometimes where he imagines himself saying things he doesn’t actually say to people.

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

“A Society” by Virginia Woolf

A group of women are having tea talking about the praiseworthy qualities of men when one of them, Polly, burst into tears. Her father left her a fortune on the condition that she read all the books in the London Library. After extensive reading she’s come to a conclusion—for the most part, books are very bad. Her companions object, but when she reads a few passage aloud, they have to agree with her assessment. This gets the women thinking about how they’ve taken it for granted that their duty is to bear children. They decide to postpone that and form a society of women who ask questions and learn about the world.

This story can be read in the preview of The Complete Works. (71% in, or select Monday or Tuesday in TOC, then the title)

“Everything Stuck to Him” by Raymond Carver

A woman visiting Milan for Christmas wants to hear a story from when she was a kid. She’s told about a young couple who lived under a dentist’s office. They were in love and ambitious. Their baby was three months old. The young man plans a hunting trip with an old friend of his father’s. (Summary & Analysis)

Read “Everything Stuck to Him”

“Life Stories” by Margaret Atwood

The narrator talks about the hunger for life stories and unflattering photos of famous people. She’s editing her own life story now.

This story can be read in the preview of The Tent(50% in: Go into Paperback preview first, then select Kindle)

“The Happy Failure: A Story of the River Hudson” by Herman Melville

A youngster waits for his elderly uncle at the river at nine in the morning. His uncle soon approaches followed by his servant, Yorpy, who’s carrying a large, oblong black box. The uncle orders the box placed on a boat, carefully, as his fortune depends on its contents. Their destination is Quash Island, ten miles away. The uncle is going to test his invention, the Great Hydraulic-Hydrostatic Apparatus for draining swamps and marshes, converting them into fertile fields.

“The Gambler, the Nun, and the Radio” by Ernest Hemingway

A Mexican man, Cayetano, and a Russian are brought to a convent hospital after being shot. They were drinking coffee at an all night restaurant when a man came in shooting at Cayetano. He was hit in the abdomen twice, and the Russian was accidentally hit in the thigh. The police try to get the details from Cayetano but he claims he didn’t see who did it. Also staying at the hospital is a writer, Mr. Frazer, who listens to the radio.

Paris 1991 | Kate Walbert

Rebecca and her husband, Tom, go to Paris to conceive a child. Rebecca thinks often of her mother, Marion, who died a few months earlier.

A Simple Heart | Gustave Flaubert

After an early romantic disappointment, Felicite is hired as a housekeeper by Madame Aubain. Her work is exemplary and she loves the Aubain children very much. When the daughter takes catechism lessons and her first communion, Felicite becomes involved in religion.

Read here

Mr. and Mrs. Baby | Mark Strand

Bob and Babe Baby go thru their meaningless daily routine of getting up, eating, talking, and socializing.

A Boring Story (A Tedious Story) | Anton Chekhov

Nikolai Stepanovich is an aged, renowned medical professor. Despite his success, he’s unsatisfied; his heath is poor, he’s annoyed with his family, and sick of the conversation of his associates.

Read here

The Beast in the Jungle | Henry James

John Marcher meets up with May Bartram, a woman he had met on vacation ten years prior. They share a bond because she is the only person to whom he has ever confided his secret – he’s convinced that he’s destined to experience a monumental but disastrous event. They live close to each other and become good friends.

This is a novella-length story.

Read here

What I Saw from Where I Stood | Marisa Silver

A young couple is unsettled and uncertain about the future after the wife suffers a miscarriage and, months later, they’re the victims of a carjacking.

The Door | E. B. White

A man is touring a house. He is confused about the location of the doors in the house, and compares his situation to rats that are experimented on.

Read here

Midair | Frank Conroy

Sean Kennedy is six-years-old when his absent father shows up to take him home from school. No one has a key so they climb in thru the fire escape. His father is manic. Eventually, some staff arrive from an asylum to get Mr. Kennedy. The narrative jumps ahead to future incidents in Sean’s life.

Subtotals | Gregory Burnham

The narrator gives us the current count on many things he’s done or experienced in his life.

Read “Subtotals”

The Other Side of the Hedge | E. M. Forster

A man stops to rest on the side of the road. He is passed by some people, and also thinks of his brother whom he left behind. He notices a small opening in the hedge that lines the road. He pushes his way thru it.

This can be read as a parable about how to live.

Playing with Dynamite | John Updike

Fanshawe is in his sixties and has slowed down a lot. His wife is a bit younger and spryer. The narrator gives us a look at Fanshawe’s childhood, middle years, his marriage, and how his attitude about life has developed.

Will You Please Be Quiet, Please? | Raymond Carver

Ralph and Marian, both studying to be teachers, get married right after graduation. They get teaching jobs and have two children. They are happy except for one incident that Ralph thinks of more often lately—he believes Marian was unfaithful to him two years ago.

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)”

The Prison | Bernard Malamud

Tommy Castelli has worked long days in his candy store for the past ten years. As a youth, he had dropped out of vocational school, and started associating with a gang. His father wanted him to marry Rosa and open the store, but Tommy left town. Eventually, he came back.

Read “The Prison”

Ace in the Hole | John Updike

Fred “Ace” Anderson is a married twenty-six-year old. He’s just lost his job. He was a basketball star in high school, but is struggling in the real world.