I’ve only read a tiny fraction of the hundreds of literary journals and e-zines out there, so this list is limited to The New Yorker and Atlantic Monthly (two of the few large magazines that print short stories) plus One Story, Glimmer Train Stories, Zoetrope All-Story and Ploughshares. I also read single issues of other journals (A Public Space, Post Road and Tin House) as part of the process of submitting my own short stories.
Each story is linked but in cases where the story isn’t directly available, the link is to the journal or magazine. I encourage you to subscribe to these journals or at least buy a single issue: they need all the support they can get!
Lynn Ahrens, “Rendition” (Glimmer Train Stories, Spring 2011) – “Extraordinary rendition” from the perspective of the detainee’s wife, isolated in her community in Jackson Heights
K.L. Cook, “Filament” (One Story, #147) – A fresh take on an abusive relationship in a small Texas Panhandle town
Robert Coover, “Matinée” (New Yorker, July 25, 2011) – Life and art get mixed up in romantic encounters that echo the plots of old movies
Nicole Cullen, “Banner Creek Summit” (Ploughshares, Spring 2011) – A young man and his ex-girlfriend, who’s returned after leaving him and is expecting his baby, drive into a snowstorm in Idaho, eventually hitting an elk and getting stuck.
Louise Erdrich, “The Years of My Birth” (New Yorker, Jan. 10, 2011) – A white woman who was born deformed and raised in a native family meets her birth mother
Caitlin Horrocks, “Life Among the Terranauts” (One Story, #144) – Written in a wonderful voice, this imaginative story looks at what goes wrong when six people agree to spend two years locked in a kind of Biosphere.
Bret Anthony Johnston, “Soldier of Fortune” (Glimmer Train Stories, Winter 2011) – A teenager sneaks through a neighbor’s house whose daughter he loves and whose toddler son is in the hospital with burns
Thomas McGuane, “Good Samaritan” (New Yorker, April 25, 2011) – A man who grows exotic alfalfa ends up taking on a con man as a ranchhand when he gets injured
Stephen Millhauser, “Miracle Polish” (New Yorker, Nov. 14, 2011) – The best story I read this year is about a man who sees a different version of himself and his girlfriend in a mirror and gradually becomes obsessed.
Alice Munro, “Gravel” (New Yorker, June 27, 2011) – A classic Alice Munro story featuring unfaithfulness, two sisters and a drowning. What else do you need to know?
David James Poissant, “Refund” (One Story, #155) – Disagreement between two parents over how to raise their gifted but awkward six-year-old comes to a head at a gathering for parents of the children
Adam Theron-Lee Rensch, “A Day in the Life” (Glimmer Train Stories, Summer 2011) – The assassination of John Lennon reimagined from different points of view, including Mark Chapman’s
Ethan Rutherford, “Summer, Boys” (One Story, #145) – A pitch perfect p=ortrait of two ten-year-old boys and the rapid changes in the relationship
George Saunders, “Tenth of December” (New Yorker, Oct. 31, 2011) – Although a tad more straightforward than a typical Saunders story (if there is such a thing), this still brings together his unique, imaginative and comic voice with underlying pathos.
Luis Alberto Urrea, “Chamelta” (Tin House, Spring 2011) – Translated from Spanish, this is an exquisite short piece of magic realism about a dying soldier.
Josh Weil, “Malvern Hill” (Glimmer Train Stories, Winter 2011) – Father, son, both with failed marriages, both haunted by history, all done before but exceptionally well done here