Steven Millhauser's 6 favorite story collections
Revenge by Yoko Ogawa (Picador, $15). These sinister stories begin quietly but swerve into strangeness. In "Sewing for the Heart," a man is visited one day by a woman who removes her blouse and displays her naked heart, beating outside her body.
Marcovaldo by Italo Calvino (Mariner, $14). Twenty very short stories about a working-class man in an unnamed city. Each tale embraces the familiar world, captured in sharp, evocative details, before moving in the direction of the unlikely or impossible. In "The Wrong Stop," Marcovaldo leaves a movie theater, steps out into a dense fog that erases the city, moves through invisible streets, climbs some steps, and finds himself on an airplane headed for Bombay.
Seven Japanese Tales by Junichiro Tanizaki (Vintage, $16). Tanizaki excels at portraits of erotic obsession and psychic breakdown. In "The Tattooer," a famous tattoo artist creates his masterpiece on the beautiful skin of a timid girl. On her back he designs an immense black spider, which transforms her into a dangerous woman.
In Our Time by Ernest Hemingway (Scribner, $14). In these fiercely controlled stories of his early 20s, Hemingway displays a mastery of implication. In stories like "Cat in the Rain" and "The End of Something," a vague dissatisfaction accumulates until it bursts forth in dangerous speech.
Stories by Katherine Mansfield (Vintage, $17). Mansfield is brilliant at inhabiting temperaments on the verge of hysteria or revelation. In "Bliss," a young wife is seized by an unbearable happiness that affects her like a disease of the nervous system.
The Collected Stories of Elizabeth Bowen (Anchor, $25). Bowen was far more adventurous in her stories than in her novels. "Summer Night" is a masterful study of devastation caused by lovelessness. In one frightening scene, a young girl, abandoned at night by her adulterous mother, takes off her clothes and roams naked through the house. Using colored chalk, she covers her body with images of snakes. In her mother's room, she dances on the bed, bouncing higher and higher. It's a visionary scene, like a painting of hell.