9 brilliant short stories by women to read online now

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Sarah Shaffi
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Cat Person, a viral short story about sex and bad dating, has spoken to women across the world. Here, selects nine equally brilliant stories, all written by women, to read next

So you’ve read Cat Person, dissected it and now you’re hungry for more feminist stories. You’ve come to the right place.

Here are nine short stories by women, that cover everything from the subjugation of females to the complexities of mother-daughter relationships. They all feature complicated, realistic women doing what they can to survive – even if, sometimes, those things are difficult and uncomfortable.

The Mark of Cain by Roxane Gay

Gay’s non-fiction is well-loved, but her fiction is just as sharply observed and thought-provoking. In The Mark of Cain, the narrator is married to Caleb, an unkind, violent man. Caleb has an identical twin, Jacob, and the twins often swap places, thinking the narrator does not know. This is a disturbing tale about a woman trapped between two men, making difficult decisions every day and sacrificing herself. The Mark of Cain is from Gay’s short story collection, Difficult Women.

Read it here

Dido’s Lament by Tessa Hadley

When Lynette chases after a man who bumped into her on Oxford Street, causing her to twist her ankle, she’s pleasantly surprised to discover it’s her ex-husband. As the two reconnect, Lynette reassesses her feelings for Toby, who is now successful, married and has children. This story is a perceptive look at the reality of picture-perfect lives, and an exploration of how even the most independent of women can internalise what society believes women should want.

Read it here

How Did You Feel About It? by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

In this story, the narrator contemplates her relationship with her partner, Jonathan, while they are on a train journey. She is unsatisfied – everything she used to love about Jonathan now annoys her, and she finds his avoidance of confrontation passive aggressive. When a couple join them on the train, the narrator finds herself envious of their beauty and glamour, but not everything is as it seems.

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Settling by Jenny Zhang

Beginning with Lillian spotting an old schoolmate’s Instagram photo, this is a story about, well, settling. Lillian’s former classmate had skin problems at school, but is now successful and desired, while Lillian’s once beautiful aunt is now alone and bitter. The lesson, says Lillian’s mother, is that you should always marry someone who loves you more than you love them, and that you need a man who is “too unimaginative to want much more than a life with you”.

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Crazy They Call Me by Zadie Smith

Smith has written plenty of short fiction, much of it for The New Yorker and all well worth checking out. In this second-person narrative, Smith inhabits the world of the singer Billie Holiday, who in the story is famous but struggling with drugs, and incredibly lonely. She’s a woman who is aware of her power and appeal, but also knows that these attributes won’t cure her loneliness. She’s also a woman seen as a “lady”, dealing with all the restrictions the connotations of that word brings.

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The Yellow Wallpaper by Charlotte Perkins Gilman

There is absolutely no way we could recommend short stories by women and not include Perkins Gilman’s classic feminist tale. In The Yellow Wallpaper, told in the first person through a series of journal entries, we meet a woman who is forbidden to work by her husband, forbidden even to leave her room, so that she can recover from a ‘temporary nervous depression’. The physical imprisonment leads to the decline of the woman’s mental health, as she becomes more and more obsessed with the room’s yellow wallpaper, unsurprising given the lack of other stimulation. This is an essential read on the subjugation of women and the way marriage can be a prison.

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The Assassination of Margaret Thatcher - August 6th 1983 by Hilary Mantel

This tale, also the title of a short collection by Mantel released in 2014, caused much consternation when it was published, particularly among Tory circles. In it, a woman is taken hostage by an IRA gunman, who wants to shoot Thatcher from the woman’s Windsor flat. But this isn’t really a story about Thatcher, it’s about the suffocation of women - the protagonist lives a strait-laced life and finds herself in an extraordinary situation, to which she reacts unusually. And whatever you think about Thatcher, the gunman’s comment that he can’t stand her ‘fake femininity’ will resonate with any woman who has ever been made to feel like her femininity is there to be judged by men.

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Garments by Tahmima Anam

This is about three girls working in a garment factory in Bangladesh, searching for love and, more importantly, security. The story is predicated on a marriage because, as one character says, “everything is better if you’re married”. Garments is both funny and sad, and honest about sexuality and the vulnerable position of working-class women. Its three very different protagonists all do what they need to survive in a world made for men.

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The Freeze-Dried Groom by Margaret Atwood

This short story starts with Sam, a second-hand furniture dealer, being dumped by his wife Gwyneth, and it ends somewhere completely unexpected. Along the way, we learn about Sam’s secret lives – the one he lives day-to-day, and the fantasies he lives out in his head – and we discover his ability to cast everyone else, especially women, as the villains in his life. A truly creepy tale, made more so by the questions it leaves unanswered. The Freeze-Dried Groom is from Atwood’s short story collection Stone Mattress.

Read it here

Images: iStock


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Sarah Shaffi

Sarah Shaffi is a freelance journalist and editor. She reads more books a week than is healthy, and balances this out with copious amounts of TV. She writes regularly about popular culture, particularly how it reflects and represents society.