The Pier Falls by Mark Haddon (2016) 218 p.

Mark Haddon had this to say about short fiction in the Guardian while promoting this anthology:

“…the Chekhov/Joyce/ Mansfield/Carver idiom, an idiom that has become a kind of ruling orthodoxy on both sides of the Atlantic over the last 30 years: modest, melancholic stories, not arcs with beginnings, middles and ends, so much as moments and turning points, stories often about things not happening and people being absent, not really stories at all according to the everyday meaning of the word… if you are writing a short story and it is not more entertaining than the stories in that morning’s newspaper or that evening’s TV news, then you need to throw it away and start again, or open a cycle repair shop.”

It’s not a coincidence that the two pieces I liked least in The Pier Falls are precisely that sort of story: Breathe and The Weir, both stories which are mostly about interpersonal relationship drama. Nearly all the other are excellent, however, and live up to Haddon’s observation that a story, as the word is typically used, should fundamentally be about something unusual and interesting. The titular story The Pier Falls is probably the standout, a slow-motion observation of a mass death catastrophe as a pier collapses into the sea, which you can read free online. I also greatly enjoyed The Woodpecker and the Wolf, about an expedition of astronauts stranded on Mars, and Wodwo, an excellent modern-day reworking of Gawain and the Green Knight. Highly recommended, even if you don’t typically read short stories.