Reading Recommendations

The Best (Dead) Father Stories

Art credit: Alice Neel

Today is my father’s birthday. He died over twenty years ago and far too young.

In 2017, I wrote a piece about him that was published in the anthology
Sleep is a Beautiful Color. Afterward, SmokeLong Quarterly asked me to send them a list of my favorite flashes. Here are some of the best stories on fathers, dead or alive. 

My Father Took Me To Watch
by Mai Nardone (in Tin House)

Nardone startles me with her first sentence. She exposes her father’s callousnesss in one sure stroke. The story gets even more haunting as she writes about the responsibility of being a first-born and what it means to keep secrets from your “noosed mother.” A cruel but beautiful read.

Letter to a Funeral Parlor
by Lydia Davis (in The Collected Stories Of Lydia Davis, excerpt made available by NPR).

Davis always inspires me, so a list without her would be incomplete. In this flash, she expresses the anguish of grief by focusing on the absurdity of how we deal with our death. Who can disagree when she writes: “Cremains sounds like something invented as a milk substitute in coffee, like Cremora, or Coffee-mate.”

Sometimes My Father Comes Back from the Dead
by Steve Edwards (in SmokeLong Quarterly)

It’s easy to love a good ghost story. What I admire in Edward’s flash is the optimism in the narrator’s voice and the perceived innocence of his father’s presence. It makes me wish my own father would drop by more often, so I could love him without reserve.

Relic” by Aubrey Hirsch
(in The Journal of Compressed Creative Arts)

Hirsch’s narrator possesses a seducing reticence. By focusing on a dining room table, she tells us about her father’s tragedy and her response to it. It’s a talent to let something as hard as wood reveal so much emotion.

Father’s Return from War. Topics
by Horia Gârbea (in Words Without Borders)

What can you know about a father who goes to war while you, the child, stays behind? What can you imagine? In this ingenious story by Gârbea, we are treated to nine versions of a history that leaves me wondering how many of them are mutually exclusive.

Timbre and Tone
by Sudha Balagopal (in Jellyfish Review)

In Balagopal’s flash about a father’s funeral she brilliantly shows the mystery our parents are to us. Here’s a daughter who tries to figure them out, pin them down, so that by her understanding their actions might hurt her less. But in the end, they keep surprising her, which, surprisingly, comes as a relief.

Lessons” by Justin Torres
(in We the Animals, excerpt in Granta)

You can debate whether the chapters in We the Animals are separate stories, but I read them as such, so I could include one on my list. Torres writes beautifully and honestly about a father who, despite his flawed character and bad behavior, is hard to hate.

The Hand That Wields The Priest
by Emily Devane (in Bath Flash Fiction Award)

In Devane’s story an entire relationship between a father and his daughter is transformed by one well-chosen scene. “That night, his hand felt different on my head.” I feel it, too.

Empire State Building
by James Yates (in matchbook)

Should we hate or love our fathers for their lies, their exaggerations, their obsessions? In this touching story by Yates, in which more is said than written, I am left pondering that interesting question.

by Paul Maliszewski (in Gulf Coast)

Stories about fathers are often about authority. Maliszewski strikingly shows how a son deals with the authority of both church and father, and how he finds invisible ways to be defiant.

by John Cheever (in The Stories of John Cheever)

My father was the opposite of the man in Cheever’s story, but when I read this flash, I am the naive son who is so excited about meeting his father until … oh, just read it, if you haven’t already.

Did I miss any great stories on (dead) fathers? Please let me know!

The list was originally published on the SmokeLong Quarterly Blog.