Corinna Barsan’s Top 10

Corinna Barsan is a senior editor at Grove/Atlantic. She says: Ranging from mordant absurdity to magical realism to just plain magical, these ten stories are delightfully unconventional and off-center—where things may or may not be as they seem.

1.“Ice Man” by Haruki Murakami, translated by Richard Peterson, from the collection Blind Willow, Sleeping Woman (Knopf, 2006). -- A woman marries an ice man, whose words “formed white clouds above him, like comic-strip captions,” and becomes lost in the insular world they have created. While her husband’s characteristics are curious and unique, his icy core is really no different from the distant recesses she hides in herself. 2."Trouble and the Shadowy Deathblow" by Patrick Somerville, from the collection Trouble (Vintage, 2006). -- Revenge is a dangerous thing. . . It’s particularly dangerous when you’ve gone from loser to invincible in one night thanks to a throw of fate’s dice—you can’t undo knowing the fatal Shadowy Deathblow.
3."Night Women" by Edwidge Danticat, from the collection Krik? Krak! (Knopf 1996). -- Though one of the least fantastical and most realistic stories on this list, I find it to be the most haunting and magical. With imagery reminiscent of children’s stories and fables, it uses the transporting quality of dreams and spirit to camouflage a disturbing truth. 4.“The Life and Adventures of Shed Number XII” by Victor Pelevin, translated from the Russian by Andrew Bromfield, from the collection The Blue Lantern and Other Stories (New Directions, 1997) -- A storage shed ponders existential questions about the meaning of life and longs to become something other than what it is. It imagines transforming into a bicycle, like the one stored between its walls, and hitting the open road.
5.“One Arm” by Yasunari Kawabata, translated from the Japanese by Edward Seidensticker, from the collection House of the Sleeping Beauties: And Other Stories (Kodansha International, 2004). -- A young woman removes her right arm and surrenders it to a lonely man for the night—a night that is seductive in its rolling fog and purple light. It’s an incredibly sexy story, though equally unsettling and startling. 6.“Harvey’s Dream” by Stephen King, from the collection Just After Sunset, (Scribner, 2008). -- From the “king” of horror and suspense, this is an unexpected portrait of an emotionless middle-aged couple stuck in the banality of routine and domesticity . . . until (of course there has to be a twist) one morning Harvey wakes from a nightmare only to find it may be coming true.
7."Frost Mountain Picnic Massacre" by Seth Fried, from the collection The Great Frustration (Soft Skull Press, 2011). -- What would happen to your place in society if you asked the right questions of your government, if you chose to be contrarian, to maybe raise your kids differently from the others? Fried’s story tackles the nature of groupthink against the backdrop of an absurd, and especially bloody, annual picnic. 8.“Seven Floors” by Dino Buzatti, translated from the Italian by Judith Landry, from The Art of the Tale, edited by Daniel Halpern (Penguin, 1987). -- Giovanni Corte, stricken with a mild illness, checks himself into a nursing home where patients are housed on each floor according to the gravity of their condition—floor seven is for the minor cases and floor one is where you go to die. Due to the bureaucratic red tape that fences him in, Corte’s fate is sealed as he starts to descend floors.
9.“Helix” by Banana Yoshimoto, translated from the Japanese by Ann Sherif, from the collection Lizard (Grove Press, 1995). -- A writer’s girlfriend considers having her mind erased on a meditation retreat so that she can have a clean slate, but which memories are necessary and which aren’t? A charming story that examines the treasured fragments of time that make up the helix of a relationship. 10.“A Good-Looking Couple” by Etgar Keret, translated from the Hebrew by Miriam Shlesinger and Sondra Silverston, from the collection The Nimrod Flipout (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2006). -- A one-night stand (or will it turn out to be more than just sex?) as narrated by the guy, the girl, the cat, and the apartment’s inanimate objects—the door and the television. It’s a symphony of neurotic and desirous voices.
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