There seems to be a tradition of using isolation as a theme in many modern short story collections. It might just be my maudlin nature that causes me to be intrigued, engrossed, and thereby seduced by this theme. I also think that working with issues of isolation and alienation work really well in the short story format. Authors can pack a meaner punch in a short story than in a drawn out novel. They can grapple with the implications, the tendencies, and the results of feelings of isolation in a tighter, more succinct format than in a novel which demands a greater breadth to the narrative. Or maybe authors have conferred and concluded that no one wants to read about someone feeling remote and lonely for 300+ pages. Here are some collections that explore different forms of isolation and alienation without ever being too sentimental, too syrupy, or even too stale.
Alone With You: Stories by Marissa Silver
Silver’s writing has a gorgeous subtlety to it, if there is such a thing. The characters experience love and death and longing. Sometimes there isn’t a resolution, which, strange as it may seem, is actually a welcome trait of her prose.
The Stories of Breece D’J Pancake by Breece D’J Pancake
Pancake’s writing is as plaintive and unadorned as his characters. Pancake writes about people from rural West Virginia, where he was from. These are salt of the earth characters, miners and loggers. Yet they yearn for something better, yearn for love. Or for absolution. Many of the characters find themselves trapped and alone, yet impotent to action.
What We Talk About When We Talk About Love by Raymond Carver
Carver’s main themes may not be about isolation or remoteness at all, and yet he conveys this emotion seemingly unintentionally. His characters are uneducated or vice dependent. They may lack any vision whatsoever. And Carver’s minimalism celebrates these attributes, it celebrates the simplistic. And it also conveys certain dreadedness, an emotionally stilted isolation.