Modern Short Stories: Contemporary Fiction Online

Updated on March 2, 2019
Howard Allen profile image

Howard is an avid short story reader who likes to help others find and understand stories.

In the literary sense, modernism refers to stories written in the late 1800's and continuing until at least the 1930's. I have a feeling that most people who want to read a modern story don't have that in mind.

The short stories on this page are modern in the informal sense, as in, they are fairly recent. They were all written after 1980. I hope you find something good here!

The stories are arranged from oldest to newest. They are:

  • "Cathedral"
  • "Janus"
  • "We Can Get Them For You Wholesale"
  • "Friend of My Youth"
  • "I Want to Live!"
  • "The Third and Final Continent"
  • "The Ice Man"
  • "The Arrangers of Marriage"
  • "What We Talk About When We Talk About Anne Frank"
  • "The Semplica-Girl Diaries"
  • "Jubilee"
  • "The Knowers"
  • "You, Disappearing"
  • "Hall of Small Mammals"

"Cathedral" by Raymond Carver (1983)

The narrator's wife had a summer job one year reading to a blind man. They became friends and kept up a correspondence by tape for years. Now, this blind man is coming to visit, and the narrator isn't thrilled about it. His wife is insisting on the visit—the blind man's wife has recently died—so he has to deal with it.

Read "Cathedral"

"Janus" by Ann Beattie (1986)

Andrea, a real estate agent, displays a bowl in the houses she sells. It has a special presence, and she has a special attachment to it.

Read "Janus"

"We Can Get Them For You Wholesale" by Neil Gaiman (1989)

Peter Pinter lives quietly and avoids trouble. He loves a bargain but, other than that, is moderate in all his habits. When he finds out his fiancee is cheating on him, he does something extreme.

Read "We Can Get Them For You Wholesale"

Peter dialled the number, surprising himself by so doing. His heart pounded in his chest and he tried to look nonchalant... Peter was just starting to hope it would not be answered and he could forget the whole thing when there was a click...

— Neil Gaiman

"Friend of My Youth" by Alice Munro (1990)

The narrator's mother was a small-town teacher who boarded with the Grieves family. Flora, the younger sister, did all the work and looked after her older sister, Ellie. We find out how Ellie and Robert came to be married, and how Flora adapted to all the changes in her life.

Read "Friend of My Youth"

"I Want to Live!" by Thom Jones (1993)

Mrs. Wilson gets the news that she has cancer in two places. Not only that, but it's an irregular kind of cancer that will make treatment difficult. Her doctor is good but lacks bedside manner. She thinks about her options and copes with her ordeal.

Read "I Want to Live!"

"The Third and Final Continent" by Jhumpa Lahiri (1999)

A Bengali man recounts his life as a young man. He moves to London to pursue his education. He lives with several roommates and works at the school library. When his marriage is arranged, he goes back to Calcutta to get married and then goes to Boston. He gets a job at M.I.T. in the library. He details his struggles with adapting to American, and married, life.

Read "The Third and Final Continent"

"The Ice Man" by Haruki Murakami (First english translation 2003)

The narrator met an Ice Man at a ski resort. She observes him reading for a few days and then approaches and starts a conversation. He knows she's curious about him and invites her to sit. She restrains herself from asking too many personal questions. He seems to know all about her without being told.

Read "The Ice Man"

At the time I had no idea what sort of person an Ice Man was, and my friend couldn't help me out. All she knew was that he was the sort of person who went by the name of Ice Man.

— Haruki Murakami

"The Arrangers of Marriage (New Husband)" by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie (2003)

The narrator has just arrived in New York from Lagos. She goes home to her apartment with her new husband. Her husband and home aren't what she was expecting. She adapts to her new life and learns American customs.

Read "The Arrangers of Marriage"

"What We Talk About When We Talk About Anne Frank" by Nathan Englander (2011)

Two Jewish couples, one strictly orthodox and one secular, visit in New York. While they drink and use drugs they discuss Jewish life and other social issues. The conversation turns to the Holocaust. This reminds one of the wives of a game she used to play.

Read "What We Talk About When We Talk About Anne Frank"

"The Semplica-Girl Diaries" by George Saunders (2012)

A father wants to get an impressive birthday present for his oldest daughter, Lilly, who's turning thirteen. He starts a diary to chronicle the buildup, and also to inform future generations about life in his time. His family is middle-class, but they want to be rich. The father has an idea for an extravagant gift.

Read "The Semplica-Girl Diaries"

"Jubilee" by Kirstin Valdez Quade (2013)

Andrea is crashing a party hosted by the Lowells, her father's employer. They own three hundred acres where they grow apples, pears and blueberries. The laborers are off to allow the Lowell's rich friends to pick blueberries. Andrea's father will be there serving food from his taco truck, which is his side business. Her mother can't go because she works Saturdays. Andrea is a Stanford student now. She wants to show her confidence, and shame the Lowells for their snobbery.

Read "Jubilee"

"The Knowers" by Helen Phillips (2013)

The technology exists to allow people to find out the day of their death. The narrator wants to find out, to the horror of her husband, Tem, who doesn't approve. Despite this, she leaves home and heads for the office where the testing is done.

Read "The Knowers"

"You, Disappearing" by Alexandra Kleeman (2014)

The narrator finds her cat missing. Procedure requires her to call it in, but she calls her ex instead. She knows one day he won't answer the phone. The apocalypse has started. Things and people are slowly but suddenly disappearing. They simply vanish, never to return.

Read "You, Disappearing"

The apocalypse was quiet. It had a way about it, a certain charm. It could be called graceful. It was taking a long time.

— Alexandra Kleeman

"Hall of Small Mammals" by Thomas Pierce (2016)

The narrator is at the zoo with his girlfriend's twelve-year-old son, Val. There's a special showing of Pippin Monkeys. The narrator wants the boy to like him, so he's putting up with the kid's personality and trying to accommodate him. They're standing in a long, slow-moving lineup.

Read "Hall of Small Mammals"


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