Best American Short Stories 2023
Min Jin Lee, author of the highly acclaimed National Book Award Finalist Pachinko, selects twenty stories out of thousands that represent the best examples of the form published the previous year.
10 Things That Never Happened by Alexis Hall
Sam Becker is the manager of the Leeds location of a bed and bath retailer. It’s a pretty great job, all told; management suits him, and his staff adore him, not least because he places a high value on making the store a humane place to work. Too bad, then, that the owner is a thoroughly intimidating git.
Jonathan Forest should never have hired Sam Becker in the first place. It was a sentimental decision—he saw something in the sunny young Northerner—and Jonathan did not get to where he is by following his heart. Trying to fix the situation, Jonathan orders Sam down to the Croydon branch for a difficult talk…only for Sam (panicked at the idea of a confrontation with the surly owner) to bump his head and, well, pretend he doesn’t remember anything?
Faking amnesia seemed like a good idea in the heat of the moment, but now Sam has to deal with the very real reality of Jonathan’s guilt—and the unexpected new sides of the surly man he never thought he’d see. There’s an unexpected freedom in getting a second shot at a first impression…but as Sam and Jonathan grow closer, can Sam really bring himself to tell the truth, or will their future be built entirely on one impulsive lie?
Everything I Learned, I Learned in a Chinese Restaurant by Curtis Chin
Nineteen eighties Detroit was a volatile place to live, but above the fray stood a safe haven: Chung’s Cantonese Cuisine, where anyone—from the city’s first Black mayor to the local drag queens, from a big-time Hollywood star to elderly Jewish couples—could sit down for a warm, home-cooked meal. Here was where, beneath a bright-red awning and surrounded by his multigenerational family, filmmaker and activist Curtis Chin came of age; where he learned to embrace his identity as a gay ABC, or American-born Chinese; where he navigated the divided city’s spiraling misfortunes; and where—between helpings of almond boneless chicken, sweet-and-sour pork, and some of his own, less-savory culinary concoctions—he realized just how much he had to offer to the world, to his beloved family, and to himself.
House Gone Quiet: Stories by Kelsey Norris
A group of women contemplate violence after they’re sent into foreign territory to make husbands of the enemy. A support network of traumatized joggers meets to discuss the bodies they’ve found on their runs. And a town replaces its Confederate monument with a rotating cast of local residents. Slippery but muscular, sly but electric, this stunning debut collection moves from horror to magical realism to satire with total authority. In these stories, characters build and remake their sense of home, be it with one another or within themselves.
As in the very best collections, each of these stories is a world all its own, with a novel’s emotional heft and a poem’s laser focus on the most achingly resonant details of its characters’ lives. Captivating from start to finish, House Gone Quiet announces the arrival of a thrilling literary talent.
Jonathan Abernathy You Are Kind by Molly McGhee
Jonathan Abernathy is a self-proclaimed loser. . . he’s behind on his debts, has no prospects, no friends, and no ambitions. But when a government loan forgiveness program offers him a literal dream job, he thinks he’s found his big break. If he can appear to be competent at his new job, entering the minds of middle class workers while they sleep and removing the unsavory detritus of their waking lives from their unconscious, he might have a chance at a new life. As Abernathy finds his footing in this role, reality and morality begin to warp around him. Soon, the lines between life and work, love and hate, right and wrong, even sleep and consciousness, begin to blur.
The Dish: The Lives and Labor Behind One Plate of Food by Andrew Friedman
On a typical night, in a contemporary American restaurant in an emerging food city, a guest orders their dinner from a server. It’s an exchange that happens hundreds of times a night in any restaurant—the core transaction that keeps the place churning. Yet this time, from the moment the guest orders the dish, acclaimed food writer Andrew Friedman follows its production via real-time reportage in the kitchen.
As various components are readied, finished, fired (cooked for service), and plated, Friedman introduces readers to the players responsible for producing it, from line cooks and sous chefs to the chef who conceived the dish. Readers will also meet the producers, farmers, foragers, and ranchers, who supply the restaurant, as Friedman visits each stop in the supply chain and interviews the key characters whose labor plays an essential role in the creation of this one singular dish.
The product is a rollicking ride inside every aspect of a restaurant dish, from the cooks who prepare it; to the farmers, foragers, fishermen, and ranchers who grow, harvest, and raise the ingredients; to the truck drivers who deliver the food to the restaurant and the dishwashers who clean the plates. Both a fascinating lens into the restaurant supply chain and the farm-to-table movement and a celebration of the unsung heroes of restaurants and the collaborative nature of restaurant work, The Dish will ensure readers will never look at a restaurant, cook, or farm the same way again.
The Forgers: The Forgotten Story of the Holocaust’s Most Audacious Rescue Operation by Roger Moorhouse
Between 1940 and 1943, a group of Polish diplomats in Switzerland engaged in a wholly remarkable—and until now, completely unknown—humanitarian operation. In concert with Jewish activists, they masterminded a systematic program of forging passports and identity documents for Latin American countries, which were then smuggled into German-occupied Europe to save the lives of thousands of Jews facing extermination in the Holocaust.
With the international community failing to act, the operation was one of the largest actions to aid Jews of the entire war. The Forgers tells this extraordinary story for the first time. We follow the desperate bids of Jews to obtain these lifesaving documents as the Nazi death machine draws ever closer. And we witness the quiet heroism of a group of ordinary men who decided to do something rather than nothing and saved thousands of lives.
The Unmaking of June Farrow by Adrienne Young
In the small mountain town of Jasper, North Carolina, June Farrow is waiting for fate to find her. The Farrow women are known for their thriving flower farm—and the mysterious curse that has plagued their family line. The whole town remembers the madness that led to Susanna Farrow’s disappearance, leaving June to be raised by her grandmother and haunted by rumors.
It’s been a year since June started seeing and hearing things that weren’t there. Faint wind chimes, a voice calling her name, and a mysterious door appearing out of nowhere—the signs of what June always knew was coming. But June is determined to end the curse once and for all, even if she must sacrifice finding love and having a family of her own.
After her grandmother’s death, June discovers a series of cryptic clues regarding her mother’s decades-old disappearance, except they only lead to more questions. But could the door she once assumed was a hallucination be the answer she’s been searching for? The next time it appears, June realizes she can touch it and walk past the threshold. And when she does, she embarks on a journey that will not only change both the past and the future, but also uncover the lingering mysteries of her small town and entangle her heart in an epic star-crossed love.
Lay Them to Rest: On the Road with the Cold Case Investigators Who Identify the Nameless by Laurah Norton
Fans of true crime shows like CSI, NCIS, Criminal Minds, and Law and Order know that when it comes to “getting the bad guy” behind bars, your best chance of success boils down to the strength of your evidence—and the forensic science used to obtain it. Beyond the silver screen, forensic science has been used for decades to help solve even the most tough-to-crack cases. In 2018, the accused Golden State Killer, Joseph DeAngelo, was finally apprehended after a decades-long investigation thanks to a very recent technique called forensic genealogy, which has since led to the closure of hundreds of cold cases, bringing long-awaited justice to victims and families alike. But when it comes to solving these incredibly difficult cases, forensic genealogy is just the tip of the iceberg—and many readers have no idea just how far down that iceberg goes.
Engrossing, informative, heartbreaking, and hopeful, Lay Them to Rest is a deep dive into the world of forensic science, showing readers how far we’ve come in cracking cases and catching killers, and illuminating just how far we have yet to go.