In these short stories about obsession, a character becomes fixated on a particular thing, thought, person or outcome. Often, the obsession is unhealthy, but in other stories a character is pursuing their passion or something that would be considered understandable to focus on. I hope you find some great stories here, and keep coming back again and again until you can’t think about anything else. See also:
“The She-Wolf” by Giovanni Verga
A woman, Pina, is known in her village as the She-wolf because she prowls for the men and is never satisfied. While working out in the field one day, she becomes fixated on a handsome young man, Nanni. (Summary)
This story can be read in the sample of The She-Wolf and Other Stories (70% in).
“Sleepstalk” by Courtney Summers
The narrator goes to Jed Miller’s and stares up at his window. She’s supposed to stay away from him. Jed opens the front door and looks right at her. She’s curious how he’ll react to her. He walks down his front path to the street and goes right by her without any acknowledgement. He’s sleepwalking. She follows him. She thinks about their history and her accident.
“Sleepstalk” is the first selection in the sample of Defy the Dark.
“Clytie” by Eudora Welty
The townspeople believe Clytie is losing her mind, as her sister Octavia did. Her father is paralyzed and blind. Her brother Gerald is deeply depressed and stays in his room a lot. Clytie often looks carefully at people’s faces and thinks about faces. She’s trying to remember a face from long ago. (Summary)
“Medusa’s Child” by Kim Antieau
Matthew, an artist, invites a woman to his place who was on the steps of his apartment building. She had extraordinary eyes that he had to paint. She livens up through the evening and starts talking business. She wants something in return for being his model.
This story can be read in the preview of Obsession: Tales of Irresistible Desire. (19% in)
“The Story of a Letter” by Carlos Bulosan
A man receive a letter from his son Berto who left home eight years prior. It’s in English, so neither he nor his younger son, the narrator, can read it. He has some ideas on how to get it translated. (Summary)
“Requiem for a Homecoming” | David Morrell
Ben, a screenwriter, returns to his alma matter as a guest-of-honor and for some fundraising. He meets up with his old friend Howard, now a professor at the school. Ben brings up the murder that happened in the library during their final year. The main suspect was Wayne McDonald, an assistant professor who died a week later in a car accident. The victim, Rebecca, was obsessed with him.
“Requiem for a Homecoming” is the first story in the Amazon preview of The Darkling Halls of Ivy.
“The Worm in the Apple” by John Cheever
The narrator tells us about the Crutchmans, a family that is very happy and moderate in all their habits. The narrator believes they can’t be as happy as they seem; surely there is a worm in the apple. We are given the history of Larry, Helen, and their two children in the hope of finding their hidden pain. (Summary)
The Death of a Government Clerk by Anton Chekhov
A government clerk, Ivan, sneezes while at the opera, accidentally spraying the man in front of him. The man works in another government department. Ivan is terribly embarrassed. He apologizes and is told to forget it. Ivan can’t relax after his faux pas. He wants to be sure everything is fine.
This story can be read in the preview of Stories of Anton Chekhov.
“Crown Jewel” by Joseph S. Walker
Keenan Beech is driving to his twin brother Xavier’s ramshackle house in the country. Xavier has Keenan’s White Album—one of them, because Kenan has many more. He’s obsessed with collecting these albums. He’s going to steal it back. Xavier will be out partying tonight.
This story can be read in the preview of Moonlight & Misadventure: 20 Stories of Mystery & Suspense. (26% in)
“Neighbors” by Raymond Carver
Bill and Arlene Miller look after their neighbor’s cat and plants while they’re away. The Miller’s think their neighbor’s lives are more interesting than their own. When Bill goes over to feed the cat and water the plants, he ends up staying in their apartment longer than necessary. (Summary)
This is the second story in the preview of Will You Please Be Quiet, Please?
“The Idea” by Raymond Carver
A woman is sitting in her kitchen in the dark looking out the window. The house she’s watching has the bedroom shade up and the light on. She’s been watching a man in this house for some time. He comes out on his back porch. The woman excitedly calls her husband to come look.
This is the third story in the above preview of Will You Please Be Quiet, Please?
“A Curtain of Green” by Eudora Welty
Mrs. Larkin, a young widow, spends her days from morning until dark working in her garden. She is focused on planting whatever she can, and isolates herself from her community. (Summary)
“The Walls of Anagoor” by Dino Buzzati
A tourist in Tibet is offered a visit to the walls of Anagoor, a legendary city that doesn’t appear on the map or in the guidebooks. He’s skeptical, but the local guide convinces him and they set out early in the morning. (Summary)
Find an Obsession Story, Cont’d
“Oil of Dog” by Ambrose Bierce
The narrator tells the story of his parents. His father manufactured dog oil and his mother disposed of unwanted babies. The narrator would assist his father by procuring neighborhood dogs and his mother by carrying away the remains of her work. One day, he inadvertently improves his parents’ businesses. They become fixated on his idea. (Summary)
“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)
“The Handler” by Ray Bradbury
Mr. Benedict is the mortician of a small town. He’s built up a good business over the years. Despite his success, he feels inferior to others and is the butt of many jokes. He looks forward to the time he can spend in his mortuary with the bodies. He likes the power reversal his work affords. (Summary)
“The Rocking-Horse Winner” by D. H. Lawrence
A middle-class woman, successful but perpetually short of money, lives with her two children. She is unlucky, but her son isn’t: when he rides his rocking-horse, he’s able to work himself into a state where he can pick the winner of a horse race.
This is the first story in the preview of Big Book of Best Short Stories.
“Sticks” by George Saunders
A father has a pole in his yard that he dresses according to the occasion. He’s a stingy man and his family lives on edge. (Summary & Analysis)
This is the second story in the preview of Tenth of December: Stories.
“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.
“Alaska” by Alice Adams
Lucille and Gloria are both cleaning women who work for Miss Goldstein. Lucille is African-American and older, and has been married five times. She remembers a traumatic New Years Eve with one of her ex-husbands. Gloria is white and young and is preoccupied with a lump on her leg. (Summary)
“Berenice” by Edgar Allan Poe
Egaeus and Berenice, cousins, grew up together in the family mansion. Egaeus is gloomy and obsessive; Berenice is energetic and lively. They are going to be married. Berenice gets a degenerative sickness. Egaeus begins to focus on her teeth.
This is the eighth story in the preview of Complete Tales & Poems.
“Paper” by Catherine Lim
Tay Soon and Lee Yiang become obsessed with buying their dream house, based on the expensive houses in their area and what they’ve seen in magazines. The stock market takes off and an acquaintance, Dr. Soo, makes a large gain. The couple decide to accelerate their savings by investing. (Summary)
“Moon-Face” by Jack London
The narrator hates John Claverhouse especially his optimistic view of life, his laugh, and his name. He knows that it’s an irrational hatred, but instead of ignoring the man, he obsesses over him, making it his aim to destroy Claverhouse’s life.
This is the first story in the preview of Moon-Face & Other Stories.
“John Redding Goes To Sea” by Zora Neale Hurston
The villagers thought John was an unusual child, and his mother agreed. He was imaginative and prone to day dreams. He’s drawn to the sea, and wants to leave his small Florida village when he grows up. John’s mother is against it but his father is supportive. When the time comes, John is determined to go. While waiting, he meets Stella and unexpectedly gets married, which puts his plans on hold. (Summary)
“A School Story” by William Trevor
Markham tells his classmates the same story over and over, and they always want to hear it. He asked his father how his mother died. He said they were out hunting with a group in Florence. His gun went off accidentally, killing his wife. Markham doesn’t believe the story. Within six months, his father married his deceased wife’s sister.
This story can be read in the preview of The Collected Stories. (58% into Kindle preview)
“The Piano Tuner’s Wives” by William Trevor
The piano tuner, a blind man, married Violet when he was young. They had a full life together. Two years after her death, he married Belle, when he was an old man. Belle wanted to marry him the first time around, but he chose Violet. She used to drive him around for his work, and would describe everything to him. Everyone in the area is aware of the circumstances around their union. Belle feels the lingering presence of her old rival.
This is the first story in the preview of Selected Stories.
“The Colomber” by Dino Buzzati
When Stefano turns twelve his father takes him aboard his ship. While they’re out sailing, Stefano spots something mysterious. His father turns pale when he sees what it is—a colomber, which is bad news for Stefano. (Summary)
Stories About Obsession, Cont’d
“Axiomatic” by Greg Egan
A man goes into The Implant Store. They sell tiny chips that can rewire the brain, giving people particular experiences or beliefs. He’s here for a special order. He looks around, giving himself a chance to leave without it. After five years, he still mourns and loves his deceased wife, Amy, but he knows he’s not doing this for her.
This is the second story in the preview of The Best of Greg Egan. (28% into Kindle preview)
“The Speciality of the House” by Stanley Ellin
Laffler takes Costain to Sbirro’s, a dismal looking restaurant. Laffler has an extremely high opinion of the establishment. Costain is the only person at work who has shown an appreciation for fine food, so Laffler wants to share this experience with him. He’s been going regularly for years, as have most of the other patrons. There are no menus. Occasionally, a special is served. Their meal begins with a rather bland broth.
This classic mystery story can be read in the preview of The Speciality of the House. (18% into Kindle preview)
“The Mystery of Chenholt” by Alice and Claude Askew
To recover from an illness, Reggie is transferred to a small police station in the country. One day, he gets a letter saying someone would come by on a vitally important matter. A man named Grimsby turns up. He’s the butler for Mr. and Mrs. Darrell. He believes Mr. Darrell is slowly poisoning his wife.
This story can be read in the preview of The Long Arm of the Law: Classic Police Stories. (33% in)
“The Walk Up Nameless Ridge” by Hugh Howey
Over sixty thousand feet up Mount Mallory on the planet Eno, one of the three climbing teams rests. The narrator is ashamed to admit he doesn’t want either of the other teams to make it. He wants the glory of being the first to summit this mountain. Governments and alpine clubs gave up conquering it long ago. Now, individuals who have climbed the highest peaks on their own worlds try to immortalize themselves on Mount Mallory.
This story can be read in the preview of Machine Learning: New and Collected Stories. (30% in)
“They” by R. A. Hogan
Alice is on a ledge looking into the fog below. They told her to go there, the ones who keep humanity safe. They tell her to jump off, but she’s not sure. She uploads the picture to the Connection and her followers encourage her to do it. Alice had made the mistake of asking if anyone had ever disconnected, and worse, she even tried it for a while.
This story can be read in the preview of Science Fiction Stories. (20% in)
“The Birthmark” by Nathaniel Hawthorne
Aylmer, an accomplished scientist, marries the beautiful Georgiana. She has a small birthmark on her left cheek. Most men have viewed it positively while women have been critical of it. Aylmer becomes fixated with removing the mark.
This story can be read in the preview of Mosses from an Old Manse. (5% in)
“The Mark On the Wall” by Virginia Woolf
The narrator thinks back to when she first noticed the small round, black mark on the wall, above the mantlepiece. It sent her reflecting on the mystery and speed of life, the inaccuracy of thought and a variety of people and things. She wasn’t sure exactly what it was—a mark, a hole or a projection—and she resisted getting up and taking a really close look at it.
This story can be read in the preview of The Complete Works. (31% in)
“The Falling Girl” by Dino Buzzati
Marta, a nineteen-year-old, let’s herself fall off a skyscraper balcony after looking at the rich, important people in the city. She doesn’t fall in real-time; she has interactions on the way down and sees others falling as well. (Summary & Analysis)
“The Chaser” by John Collier
Alan Austen enters an out-of-the-way shop. It’s tiny with little furniture. The merchant, an old man, only has about a dozen jars and bottles for sale. He talks about one of his offerings which is very expensive. Alan is looking for a love potion. He’s concerned about the price of such a valuable mixture. (Summary & Analysis)
“The Hoarder” by Bradford Morrow
The narrator has always been a hoarder, starting with things he could find like seashells, bird nests, butterflies, and pottery shards. His older brother, Tom, thought he was weird. His mother left and the family moved around a lot. When he got old enough to get a job, he developed a new obsession.
A lot of “The Hoarder” can be read in the preview of The Uninnocent: Stories.
“Gooseberries” by Anton Chekhov
Nicolai wants his own farm with gooseberry bushes where he can live out his life. He makes it his entire focus; he becomes stingy and marries an old, wealthy widow whom he has no feelings for.
A Slander | Anton Chekhov
A schoolmaster is at the wedding reception he has arranged for his daughter. He is outraged when a false rumor about him spreads.
The New Dress | Virginia Woolf
Mabel Waring goes to a party wearing her new dress. She couldn’t afford the latest style so she had one made from a cheaper pattern. She becomes consumed with how she looks and how she is viewed by the other attendees.
Stories About Obsession, Cont’d
A Double Buggy at Lahey Creek | Henry Lawson
Ever since Mary got married she’s wanted a double buggy. Her husband, Joe, has always worked hard, and they had planned on buying one several times but it never worked out. Mary suggests that Joe plant a potato crop to make some extra money, even though others in the area haven’t had success with potatoes.
Night | Bret Lott
A man wakes up in the night, thinking he can hear his child’s breathing in the next room. He gets up to check.
Please Hold Me the Forgotten Way | H. J. Shepard
A woman goes to cut a man’s long hair because he dislikes things that make him attractive. She thinks of him often.
A Piece of String | Guy de Maupassant
A man is walking to the market one day when he stops to pick up a piece of string. Soon after, it is reported that a wallet with 500 francs was lost. His act of picking up something makes him a suspect. He vehemently denies any guilt.
What We Cannot Speak About We Must Pass Over in Silence | John Edgar Wideman
A man becomes obsessed with visiting the son of a deceased acquaintance who is in prison. The acquaintance doesn’t leave any contact information for his incarcerated son, so the man tries to track him down and make it through the system’s bureaucracy.
Harpist on Horseback | Hilda Cole Espy
When Cassie is eight she wants to play the harp, as well as ride horses. Because she is young and a daydreamer, her mother isn’t sure if she should take Cassie seriously. Her desire persists and eventually her mother tries to find a harp.
A Curtain of Green | Eudora Welty
Mrs. Larkin is an elderly widow. She spends her days from morning until dark working in her garden. She is focused on planting whatever she can, and isolates herself from her community.
Strayed | Charles G. D. Roberts
A young domesticated ox has a wild nature – he longs to escape his yoke and flee into the forest. He remembers good times there and wants to live free in an endless summer.
Eupompus Gave Splendour to Art by Numbers | Aldous Huxley
Emberlin is an academic, an encyclopedia of irrelevant information. While researching an obscure quotation, he becomes fixated on numbers and counting to the exclusion of everything else.
Johnny Panic and the Bible of Dreams | Sylvia Plath
The narrator is an assistant to the secretary in the out-patient ward of a hospital. She is responsible for typing up people’s dreams and complaints about life. She becomes obsessed with transferring the hospital records to her own bible of dreams, with Johnny Panic as the god. One day the director catches her with the official records.
Antaeus | Borden Deal
T. J. is a young boy whose family has moved North for work. He is introduced by the narrator to the local group of boys who hang out together. T. J. Is surprised to learn there is nowhere to grow anything like he is used to in the South. When he suggests turning their hangout into a garden, everyone is interested and gets to work.
Janus | Anne Beattie
Andrea, a successful real estate agent, has a favorite bowl that she displays in homes she is selling. She feels the bowl is responsible for her success, and it seems to be on her mind frequently.
Read “Janus” (scroll down slightly)
The Hungarian Professor | Jeffrey Archer
The narrator sees the obituary of a distinguished Hungarian professor of English and translator. He recounts the time he met this man ten years after the Hungarian Revolution when he was in Budapest for a student athletic event. Although the professor lived in Budapest, he was immersed in English literature and England.
Stories About Obsession, Cont’d
The Iliad of Sandy Bar | Bret Harte
Scott and York are seen walking in opposite directions after the sound of an altercation and two gunshots. The townspeople try to get the details of the dispute but it remains hazy. Each man remains firmly entrenched in the feud.
Mrs. Bathurst | Rudyard Kipling
The narrator gets the story of Mr. Vickery, a reticent man who deserted the navy. He became infatuated with Mrs. Bathurst, a hotel proprietor known for her generosity.
The Man in a Case | Anton Chekhov
Byelikov is a teacher, strict, narrow-minded and obsessed with propriety and following the rules. When a new teacher, Kovalenko, moves into the area, some people think his sister, Varinka, would make a good match for Byelikov.
Great in the Hay | Norman Mailer
Al and Bert are both movie producers and are very similar. Al has an important distinction—he is known for being good in bed. Bert becomes obsessed with this thought.
The Tarn | Hugh Walpole
Foster has visited Fenwick to “put things right”—he heard Fenwick had some kind of grudge against him. Fenwick hates Foster but assures him everything is fine. Making conversation with him increases his irritation until he has to act.
The Lover of Horses | Tess Gallagher
The narrator’s great-grandfather loved horses, drinking and gambling. He accumulated twenty-nine horses and was likely a “whisperer”. At fifty-two he left his family for a circus.
The Seventh Trunk | Heinrich Boll
The narrator has been trying to finish a story for thirty-two years. Part one appeared in a small periodical which ceased publication before part two. It was a perfect story that has been on his mind ever since. He relates his search for the story and author.
Foxes | Timothy Findley
Morris Glendenning, a reclusive communications expert, is going to visit the Royal Ontario Museum for some research. He had chanced upon a picture of a Japanese theatre mask called Fox, which was being held by the museum. He became fascinated with it.
The Thrower-Away | Heinrich Boll
The narrator is reluctant to tell people what he does for a living. He works in the basement of a large insurance firm. He sorts the incoming mail into what is useful and what must be thrown away. He has been preoccupied with sorting mail since he was a boy.
The Man of the Crowd | Edgar Allan Poe
The narrator recounts an evening when he was sitting at a coffee house watching the people walk by. He divided the passersby into groups. He saw an old man who was difficult to categorize.
The Handsomest Drowned Man in the World | Gabriel Garcia Marquez
A drowned man washes up on the beach. While carrying him into the village, the men notice he is heavier and taller than any man they’ve seen. While the women clean him up to prepare him for burial, they see that he’s an amazing specimen, the most impressive man they’ve ever seen. The village becomes engrossed in his funeral arrangements.
Find an Obsession Story, Cont’d
The Hair | Raymond Carver
A man is distracted with the feeling that something is stuck in his teeth, probably a hair, even though he can’t see it. It continues to bother him at work. He doesn’t feel well.
The Premature Burial | Edgar Allan Poe
The narrator suffers from catalepsy and is afraid of being buried alive. He relates some of the many known cases where this has happened to people. He obsesses over his fear and takes all the precautions he can so this doesn’t happen to him.
The Caxton Private Lending Library & Book Depository | John Connolly
Mr. Berger leads a dull life. He does his job, has a few interactions with coworkers, and reads. He spends his time enjoying the many books he has. There is a shakeup at work which coincides with the death of his mother. Mr. Berger uses the changes to pursue his desire to write. While out by the train tracks one night, he sees a woman who stays on his mind.
A Telephone Call | Dorothy Parker
A woman frets over a late phone call and wonders if she should call him instead.
White Weeds | Charles W. Chesnutt
On the afternoon of his wedding day to Miss Tracy, Professor Carson urgently seeks the advice of his university’s president, Trumbull. Carson has received an anonymous letter that makes a shocking claim about his fiancée. He doesn’t have much time to decide what to do.
The Secret Lives of Dieters | Perri Klass
Polly, an artist at Ground Zero Graphics, is stuck at home, recovering from an illness. Her coworker, Donald, who lives in the building across from hers, brings her food and some work. He talks about work, his girlfriend and the diet they’re on. Polly falls in love with Donald. She thinks of him all the time and starts drawing scenes from his life.
A Teacher’s Rewards | Robert Phillips
Raybe Simpson, now an adult, visits his old third grade teacher, Miss Scofield. They talk about the old days and how some things have changed. He mentions several times that she used to rap his knuckles in class.
Read “A Teacher’s Rewards” (spoilers in side notes)
The Rags of Time | Barry Targan
Thomas Wilkins, an English professor, becomes fixated on a student, Fay Lester. She’s beautiful and has the reputation of ruining a career at her previous college. At home, his moody, adolescent son, Neil, causes some disturbance in his otherwise temperate life.
The Mole | Yasunari Kawabata
Sayoko writes a letter to her husband. She says she dreamed of the mole on her back, which was a source of contention between them. She reflects on details of their marriage, and the history of her mole, including how it became a focus for her.
Across the Bridge | Heinrich Böll
Grabowski remembers when he worked as a messenger, riding a train over the Rhine River three days a week. To calm his nerves during the passage, he focused on the first house on the other side. He would see a woman cleaning and a young girl with a doll. He became obsessed with the woman’s routine.
The Altar of the Dead | Henry James
George Stransom, fifty-five, commemorates the death of his fiancé at his private church altar. He eventually does the same for all his departed friends. Memories of the dead dominate his thoughts. He makes the acquaintance of a woman whom he has seen at his altar.
Find an Obsession Story, Cont’d
Skeleton | Ray Bradbury
Mr. Harris visits Dr. Burleigh for the tenth time this year. Harris complains again about aching bones. Burleigh is dismissive of his complaints and sends him away. Harris finds a bone specialist, Munigant, who doesn’t seem to have any formal qualifications. He listens to Harris and seems to understand. They try a session, but Harris isn’t cooperative enough.
Lafayette, Farewell | Ray Bradbury
Bill Westerleigh taps at the narrator’s door. He has tears on his cheeks and asks if this is his house. This has happened many times as Bill, eighty-nine-years-old, gets lost often. They drink and talk. Bill thinks a lot of his time as a pilot in the war. He’s haunted by his memories.
“Araby” by James Joyce
Every morning, a boy looks through an opening in the blinds at the door where his friend Mangan lives. The boy can’t stop thinking about Mangan’s older sister. When she leaves her house, he follows her as long as he can. When she finally speaks to him, he can hardly answer. She asks if he’s going to the bazaar; she would like to go but can’t. He says he will bring something back for her.
“The Country Husband” by John Cheever
Francis Weed, a middle-aged married man with four children, is in a plane that has to make an emergency crash landing. He’s effected by the experience, but his family doesn’t pay it much attention. Francis feels invigorated by this second chance. He becomes obsessed with Anne, the babysitter.
“The Great Carbuncle” by Nathaniel Hawthorne
A group of eight people rest in the Crystal Hills after an unsuccessful search for the Great Carbuncle. Although they all have their own motives, they cooperate to build a hut and start a fire. The searchers include an elderly man who’s been looking his whole life, a chemist who wants to analyze and write about the Carbuncle, a merchant who wants to sell it, a poet who wants inspiration, a prince who wants it as a family symbol, and young newlyweds who want it as a light in their house.
Third Wind | Richard Christian Matheson
Andy is running on a country road. He’s done over 25 miles. His goal is 50, and today is the day he’ll make it. He loves to push himself and always reaches his goals. He’ll be the head of his law firm in a few years. Running puts him in the right frame of mind for success.
Read “Third Wind”
I’ll keep adding obsession stories as I find more.