‘Here We Are’ by Lucy Caldwell

  • Picked by Pragya Agarwal

I love the line “It is the best summer of our lives”: summer, when everything seems possible, surmountable, within our reach. There is a feeling of time rushing past but also slowing down that Lucy captures so masterfully, and the claustrophobic nostalgia of moments that were filled with possibility but also out of reach. This story captures perfectly in such a few words the summer of young love that was filled with so much happiness but also pain, and an acute observation of how we stigmatise love in many forms that do not fit our norms, and what it does to young people, and the weight that people have to carry all their lives of what could have been, and never was because of societal expectations. Everytime I read it, I expect it to turn out differently- I hope it would- and then it stays with me for many days and nights.

First published in Granta 135, 2016, and available to read online here. Collected in Multitudes, Faber, 2016)

Pragya Agarwal is the author of (M)otherhood: On the choices of being a womanSWAY: Unravelling Unconscious Bias and Wish We Knew What to Say: Talking With Children About Race

Gooseberries by Anton Chekhov

* Picked by Peter Ahern

It’s that beautiful Russian summer landscape, a million miles from the sea, but the centre of the world, where you think every Chekhov story is set, certainly this one, with the central, but gratuitous, swim in the pond in the rain. Yes, that’s a nice touch: rain in the summer. So it must be one of those places, here in the unending summer countryside, where you cannot but be happy.

Somehow Chekhov stories always seem to be right here: you are surrounded by an infinite steppe, grasslands stretch away into the distance, trees glitter forever, and there are always sparkling streams and lakes. And though you’ve read this story a dozen times, and you know what happens, knowing all too well the grim and pathetic story within the story, to the point of being haunted by it, as the characters themselves will be, you still find yourself just where you want to be, so that what comes next, how things unfold, is both impossibly far away, as well as just around the corner. How could anybody not be happy here? Here of all places?

And now you remember, it was just such a Russian summer landscape that had captured the imagination of the story’s central character. How it had haunted him. And now you remember the plate of gooseberries. And you get the most awful, if subtle, shiver down your spine. Ah yes, this isn’t really a summer story. no, not at all. And isn’t it odd how you always forget the rain.

First published in Russian in Russkaya Mysl, 1898. Variously translated, including by Rosamund Bartlett in About Love and Other Stories, Oxford World’s Classics, 2004)

Peter Ahern is a teacher of great stories and other things. He blogs about the best novels and stories, as well as teaching them, at www.onehundredpages.wordpress.com

‘Boys Go to Jupiter’ by Danielle Evans

* Picked by Jo Lloyd

Full disclosure: it’s technically a winter holiday that kicks off this story, but a steamy Florida winter featuring all our favourite summer holiday ingredients – mean stepmother, resentful college girl, bored days by the pool, unsuitable boy picked up at burger joint, photo in Confederate flag bikini posted on social media. Oh. Dear. Claire doesn’t get it – she had Black best friends as a kid! – so on her return to college she doubles down with some spectacularly bad decisions. Everyone takes sides and things escalate rapidly. We might think we’re heading straight for something reductive and preachy, but we’d be wrong. Claire is no monster – she’s spiky and a bit self-destructive and she gets all the best lines. Her history with those Black best friends is tangled with love and grief. To say any more about the issues explored here would do a disservice to Evans’s handling of her material – funny, provocative, knowing, nuanced, and yes, angry. The story is both challenging and hugely enjoyable – as is the whole of Evans’s brilliant second collection. 

First published in Sewanee Review, Fall 2017, and available to subscribers to read here. Collected in The Office of Historical Collections, Riverhead 2020/Picador 2021

Jo Lloyd won the BBC National Short Story Award in 2019. Her 2021 collection, published in the UK as The Earth, Thy Great Exchequer, Ready Lies and in the US as Something Wonderful, was shortlisted for the Edge Hill Prize. 

‘The Man in the Shed’ by Lloyd Jones

* Picked by Wayne Connolly

‘The Man in the Shed’ is the story of a summer, a beach, a family and the disruptive presence of a visitor who takes up residence in their garden shed. 

On the edge of a small coastal town in New Zealand, the beach is an escape but it’s a squalid liminal space, where kelp gets washed up after storms, and beer cans, fag ends and used condoms gather near the sea wall; where the caravan park smells of hot plastic and dog shit; where fish feed in frenzy when the meat factory discharges into the water of the estuary.

The beach is where people try to escape each other, even when they are together. It’s where adults go when they want to have a serious talk, but little gets discussed. Everyone gazes in different directions, looking for different things. The only searing moment of intimacy in the story is when the father of the young narrator reels in his wife, who has been hooked by a fisherman surf casting while she swims offshore. She arches her back like a fish as he removes the hook embedded in her shoulder.

This is a parched story in which terrible things happen, but are barely acknowledged and even less understood by its characters – like the mysterious figure of the man in the shed, who may or may not be responsible for any of them.

The Man in the Shed is a great introduction to the writing of New Zealander Lloyd Jones. He is best known in the UK for his Booker short-listed novel Mr Pip, but his short stories and other novels are all worth seeking out. Just wait for the sun to shine and be careful where you are walking on the sand …

Collected in The Man in the Shed, Penguin Books New Zealand, 2009

Wayne Connolly’s first chapbook of short stories, Intensive Care, is published by Hickathrift Press. He was long listed for the Galley Beggar Press short story prize in 2022