10 Short Stories You Should Read This Winter

Curl up by the fire with these quick tales about being an inadequate father, stalking your chemistry teacher, and generally feeling a great deal of despair.

1. “The Winter Father” by Andre Dubus

Summary: A divorced father attempts to navigate the indignities of dating at middle-age while being a father to his increasingly estranged children all with a bleak winter backdrop rendered in the most Dubusian language.

Excerpt: “Kathi was six, had long red hair and a face that Peter had fallen in love with, a face that had once been pierced by glass the shape of a long dagger blade. In early spring a year ago: he still had not taken the storm windows off the screen doors; he was bringing his lunch to the patio, he did not know Kathi was following him, and holding his plate and mug he had pushed the door open with his shoulder, stepped outside, heard the crash and her scream, and turned to see her gripping then pulling the long shard from her cheek. She got it out before he reached her.”

So cold it’s like: Being unable to distinguish between the smoke from your cigarette and your breath in the air as you stand outside the bar after one too many.

2. “Tributaries” by Ramona Asubel

Summary: In a surreally rendered community of people who grow limbs that physically reflect the nature of their love, this story is centered around school where children grow up wanting to have additional, fully formed arms that reflect a similar kind of love, but the teachers and adults know that love is much more complicated than that.

Excerpt: “Who is this hand for?” Jan asks, filing the first nails. “That’s Abe Lincoln and next to that is my father. Those were the first two. They grew when I was eighteen and I went to Washington for the summer. I sat on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial and read his biographies. I watched the lump grow to a ball, and then a wrist. The fingers started the same way, lumps and then balls.” Jan massages a jewel of lotion in the palm. “My father called to tell me he was leaving to live in Kentucky with a new woman. ‘I love you even though I don’t love your mother,’ he told me, and right then, all at once, this hand erupted out of my chest.”

So cold it’s like: Getting frostbite so badly you start hallucinating.

You can read the whole story here.

3. “In The Rain” by Stephen Barthelme

Summary: A man loses his ex-wife’s cat before a week long rainstorm. The ensuing torrent of guilt and helplessness is captured perfectly in Barthelme’s stoic prose.

Excerpt: “My clothes were drenched by this time, and the whole front of me was so filthy I felt like a kid. I rolled over in the water in the garden to get mud all over the back of me too. I was laughing, taking a mud bath. I sat up against the back wall of the house and shielded my eyes with my hand to look at my neighbor’s house. He has a better life than I have, I thought, and he’s a Republican. It’s not supposed to be that way. He even loves that fetishistic little dog. Think I’ll just sit here until my cat comes home. I tried to pick up some mud, but it drained through my fingers, so I dug down and got drier dirt, and brought it up and compressed it into a clod, and threw it at his house. Clods for clods, I thought. Cat’s dead. Life is stupid, most of it.”

So cold it’s like: Having to walk home in a cold rain after your car broke down, but you’re so tired that you just accept it.

You can read it here.

4. “The First Day Of Winter” by Breece D’J Pancake

Summary: A story of a boy and his aging parents set against the background of a world slowly growing cold written by a gone-too-young prodigal author.

Excerpt: In the faded morning the land looked scarred. The first snows had already come, melted, sealed the hills with a heavy frost the sun could not soften. Cold winds had peeled away the last clinging oak leaves, left the hills a quiet gray-brown that sloped into the valley on either side. He saw the old man’s hair bending in the wind. “Come on inside, you’ll catch cold.” “You going hunting like I asked?” “I’ll go hunting.”

So cold it’s like: Being snowed inside a poorly insulated house with a lone space heater to keep you warm.

Read more about the story here.

(h/t Isaac Fitzgerald)

5. “Do The Windows Open?” by Julie Hecht

Summary: The charming, hilarious, and intriguing adventures of one alienated woman and her roving adventures that involve suspected Nazis and the New England winter among, other things.

Excerpt: “On the trips from Long Island to New York, I discovered that any kind of person could get on the bus at any stop. One ride from East Hampton started out well. It was still cold out, and almost like a real winter day from the past. It was nearly dusk and I could see out the window that the sky looked as if it might snow, but I knew in the new greenhouse weather this wasn’t likely.”

So cold it’s like: Getting snowed in with a Neo Nazi at Cape Cod.

(h/t James Yeh)

6. “The Snows Of Kilimanjaro” by Ernest Hemingway

Summary: Though set on the plains of Africa, the content of the story is just as cold and bleak as any winter tale. A man stubbornly dies, facing oblivion and the hallowing out of his own masculine ideals in the shadow of the tallest free standing mountain in the world.

Excerpt: “Now he would never write the things that he had saved to write until he knew enough to write them well. Well, he would not have to fail at trying to write them either. Maybe you could never write them, and that was why you put them off and delayed the starting. Well he would never know, now.”

So cold it’s like: Feeling death slowly overtake you, your fever slowly sublimating into a deep chill.

You can read it here.

7. “Sonny’s Blues” by James Baldwin

Summary: The story centers around Sonny, a jazz musician and heroin addict, and his fights and reconciliations with his brother. All of his struggle comes out in his music, the only way he can truly communicate what haunts him.

Excerpt: “All I know about music is that not many people ever really hear it. And even then, on the rare occasions when something opens within, and the music enters, what we mainly hear, or hear corroborated, are personal, private, vanishing evocations. But the man who creates the music is hearing something else, is dealing with the roar rising from the void and imposing order on it as it hits the air. What is evoked in him, then, is of another order, more terrible because it has no words, and triumphant, too, for that same reason. And his triumph, when he triumphs, is ours.”

So cold it’s like: Trying to walk in a certain way so that the snow crunching beneath your feet synchs up with the music you’re listening to on your headphones.

You can read it here.

8. “Winter Chemistry” by Joy Williams

Summary: Two young women in Maine get caught up in the painful (and sometimes violent) event of growing up, expertly rendered in prose as stark as the harsh coastal winter.

Excerpt: “The cold didn’t invent anything like the summer has a habit of doing and it didn’t disclose anything like the spring. It lay powerfully encamped - waiting, altering one’s ambitions, encouraging ends. The cold made for an ache, a restlessness and an irritation, and thinking that fell in odd and unemployable directions. The pain would start in your lap, boring up and tearing through like a big-beaked bird, traveling up your spine then to the base of your skull, entering your brain like a fever.”

So cold it’s like: Taking a long swim in the Atlantic in February with very little clothing on.

(h/t James Yeh)

9. “The Lady With The Dog” by Anton Chekhov

Summary: In perfect Chekhovian fashion, a man enters into a torrid relationship with a beautiful woman in a romantic Russian town in, of course, the winter. This woman also has a dog.

Excerpt: “Why did she love him so? Women had always taken him to be other than he was, and they had loved in him, not himself, but a man their imagination had created, whom they had greedily sought all their lives; and then, when they had noticed their mistake, they had still loved him. And not one of them had been happy with him. Time passed, he met women, became intimate, parted, but not once did he love; there was anything else, but not love.”

So cold it’s like: Stepping out into the night after you just finished a good book.

10. “Isabelle” by George Saunders

Summary: A haunting story about hatred and violence in a small town, poverty ridden and filled with racial tension. The small yet beautiful acts of love and kindness are quickly swept up in the aforementioned hatred and violence. It’s a quick story that shows how life can somehow be both terrible and worth it.

Excerpt: “The first great act of love I ever witnessed was Split Lip bathing his handicapped daughter. We were young, ignorant of mercy, and called her Boneless or Balled-Up Gumby for the way her limbs were twisted and useless. She looked like a newborn colt, appendages folded in as she lay on the velour couch protected by guardrails. Leo and I stood outside the window on cinder blocks, watching. She was scared of the tub, so to bathe her Split Lip covered the couch with a tarp and caught the runoff in a bucket.”

So cold it’s like: Taking a bath with a just a bucket of freezing water in a concrete room.

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