‘Reverse Engineering’ – Modern Short Stories Disassembled by their Authors


‘Reverse Engineering’, a collection of short stories by various authors  (2022) – 170 pages


I read collections of short stories by various authors for my own purpose. Usually in a collection I will find that one story which I like more than the others. In that case I will often later get a novel or an entire story collection by that author alone. Anthologies are a good way to try out a number of authors to find those few who appeal to my individual taste.

The stories in this anthology have nothing in common that I am aware of, except all examples of vivacious diversity.”

In ‘Reverse Engineering’ the editor, Tom Conaghan, has re-published one of the more acclaimed stories written by each of these authors, and then discusses that story with the author. The authors included in order of their stories are Chris Power, Sarah Hall, Jon McGregor, Mahreen Sohail, Jessie Greengrass, Irenosen Okojie, and Joseph O’Neill.

How did the author achieve the effects of their story?

All of the authors seem to agree that a story is powerful because it is not completely determined by the author ahead of time. In other words, it is not all cut and dried, not all prearranged ahead of time. This allows room for the imagination, for surprises. Perhaps a good story goes beyond its author’s original intentions.

I didn’t see it coming either. You don’t want to see it coming, if you’re the writer. Because if you don’t, neither will the reader.” – Joseph O’Neill

This is a good solid collection of short stories. I had read only one of these authors, Jon McGregor, before. I quite enjoyed the stories by Chris Power, Sarah Hall, Jon McGregor, Mahreen Sohail, and Joseph O’Neill. My favorite somewhat surprisingly was ‘Hair’ by Pakistani writer Mahreen Sohail. ‘Hair’ is about the somewhat universal way young men and young women interact, using the metaphor of cutting or not cutting your hair as the example.

She is eighteen, almost nineteen, and most of her friends are dating the men they believe they will marry. Surely a man she is here for right now in the most impossible moment of his life will want her by his side forever, the girl thinks.”

Sohail discusses her inspiration for ‘Hair’ afterwards:

I was talking to a friend about how you know when a relationship is over, how you can like someone and then they seem suddenly irritating and even physically unattractive – I thought the idea would make for a funny story, a bit ironic.”

Two of the stories in the collection I could not appreciate. The story ‘Filamo’ by Irenosen Okojie is dense and surreal, two qualities which I am not fond of in stories. I guess I prefer the stories I read to be plain-spoken and realistic. Although a quite short short story, the Jessie Greengrass story has one paragraph that is three pages long. This is another case where the density of the writing got in the way of my appreciation. This may be my problem, not the author’s.

This is the nice thing about anthologies of stories. They give the reader an opportunity to try out a variety of authors with little effort.


Grade:   B



3 responses to this post.

  1. Do you think this was intended for a course in short story writing?
    I mean, there’s an awful lot of stuff around about writers writing, or not writing, or navigating publishing, or not being paid properly, and *chuckle* not so many actual products of that writing for readers to read!

    Liked by 1 person


    • Hi Lisa,
      Yes, I could definitely see this as a textbook for a short story writing class. Each writer discusses their successful story with the moderator and attempts to describe why it is successful. There probably is some money to be made for textbooks for short story writing courses.
      I’ve given up trying to write short stories myself, and thus use the book as a means of sampling some writers that mostly I was unfamiliar with.

      Liked by 1 person


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