Debut Short Stories

Over the last weekend, I finished Reward System (Faber, 2022) by Jem Calder, a debut collection of short stories, which I’m now happily recommending to everyone. Each of the stories is written in a different style and from a different perspective, but it is hard not to call the collection a novel. The same characters meet and later drift apart as they live their post-university lives in a big city. They are all looking for a human connection online or IRL, and each time they miss each other I could almost feel their heartbreak.
What I enjoyed most about Reward System is the language as Calder dryly describes the world in painstaking detail, which with the specific use of timing made it ironically funny.

It is this compelling use of irony that also made another short story collection particularly memorable to me. I read We Don’t Know What We’re Doing (Faber, 2015) by debutant Thomas Morris a few years ago and to this day it is the first book that comes to mind when someone asks me for a recommendation. What I love about Morris’ writing is the fresh perspective on a community he creates by deriving humour from some very ordinary aspects of everyday life. I have been particularly impressed by the diversity of topics and characters all united by a place, a town in the south of Wales, Morris’ native Caerphilly. And even though the reoccurring themes across the anthology are grief, depression, traumatic past, and mental illness Moriss surprises with black humour, boldness, and unexpected twists that make the book a fascinating read.

Not so cheerful, however, equally readable is Frances Cha’s debut, If I had Your Face (Penguin, 2021). A book of short stories set in Seoul that follows four female characters, navigating their lives in South Korea. Only on the surface, they live very different lives, but deep down they all struggle with the same social standards in relation to beauty, wealth, strict hierarchy, and patriarchy.
After watching a number of South Korean rom-coms, that gloss over those issues, it was almost refreshing to see the other, much darker side of plastic surgery culture, K-pop fandom, and pressures women face related to marriage and motherhood.

It goes without saying that I look forward to whatever comes next from these writers, whether in a long or a short form. It seems that at the movement I can’t get enough of stories about sorrow, loneliness, and our human need to connect with other people.