The Short Stack Anthology, Volume 2 is the second collection of short stories from author Lily Morton. The anthology includes stories previous written for Morton’s website, newsletter, and reader’s group, along with four totally new stories. Whereas the first volume focuses on characters from her Mixed Messages and Finding Home series, this second collection covers just about everything else. There are 16 stories in total, with the first six featuring the characters from the Close Proximity books. The stories are mostly slice-of-life moments, and often just a few scenes, though there are a few longer ones, including the three-chapter “Sun Cove” featuring Simeon and Ziggy from the short story The Stopping Place. Most of the stories seem to take place between the ending of the book and the epilogue, and quite a number feature the couples getting engaged. (Be aware that the stories and this review will reveal some plot points from the books.)
It’s probably obvious, but I will say this collection is best read if you are familiar with at least most of the books/characters featured. But for those of us who are devoted fans and love Morton’s work, this is just so much fun. I loved reconnecting with so many of my favorite characters and seeing how they are settling into their lives together. I also liked how Morton connects the shorts to one another and to the main stories with call backs to things that happen. For example, we see Zeb give Jesse a bead in the first short they are in, then the bead appears again later in the second story. So while these are multiple shorter stories, there is a nice flow here to the anthology that works well. I really don’t think there is a bad story in the bunch, and there are some I just adored. I can’t cover them all here, but instead I’ll highlight a few I really enjoyed in particular.
“The Graduate” and “Of Maps and Valentines” feature Zeb and Jesse from Best Man. I definitely enjoyed this book, but it isn’t necessarily my most favorite of Morton’s work. However, I really loved these two short stories. The first takes place as Jesse is graduating and the second is while the men are tromping around the countryside. The stories tie together nicely and really highlight the connection between these two men so well.
“A Day in the Life of Max” lets us follow Max from After Felix shortly after the men have moved onto their new boat together. After Felix is easily one of my top five Morton books, so I am thrilled any time I get to reconnect with these characters. This is very much a “day in the life” as the title indicates. It highlights how settled Max is with Felix, how happy he is to have reunited with the man he loves, and how he is finding such joy in the simple pleasures of life. There is also plenty of snarky banter and a cameo by Ivo to go along with the sweeter moments.
“Somewhere in Between” features Arlo and Jack from Merry Measure while they are still doing a long-distance relationship. Jack has just gotten the offer to move to Amsterdam and he wants Arlo to come, but Arlo is nervous to take such a big step so early on in their relationship. We see the men go out to dinner with Jack’s awful parents and there is a great moment where Jack finally puts his foot down about their treatment of Arlo. This one is sexy and sweet and really connects so nicely with the main book; it is a perfect add on.
“The Lion Tamers” connects us with Mal and Cadan from Spring Strings. I have no idea how I never read this one, but for some reason, I missed it when it came out. So I was familiar with Mal from The Sunny Side, but hadn’t read his story. Despite that, this was one of my favorites as we see both Mal and Cadan stand up for one another in the face of someone who has wronged the man they love. There is a nice parallel structure in the way the story is set up and it really gave me the sense of both men, even in just reading this short story without their full book.
“When Will Met Jem” is one of the totally new stories and, as the title indicates, shows us how Will and Jem first met prior to the start of their book, The Sceptic. We learn about this rather inauspicious beginning in The Sceptic and it occurs during the timeline of The Mysterious and Amazing Blue Billings, so I just assumed it was detailed in that book and I just forgot. But, apparently, their meeting is never actually shown in either story and so Morton includes it here. Blue is supposed to give a ghost tour, but there is an emergency and he leaves Will to run the tour for him. Jem and his jerk of a boyfriend are on the tour and Will has no idea what he is doing and it is all sort of a mess. But we can see that spark between Will and Jem that builds the connection leading into their book. It was fun to get this missing piece that explains the background for the characters and it’s a nice addition to the books.
“Sun Cove” is a three-chapter story for Simeon and Ziggy from The Stopping Place. That is in itself a short story, so with these three chapters, it does add quite a bit of length to their story. We see them here about a year after the end of The Stopping Place and Ziggy is just coming home from being away working a festival. Simeon has met a new friend who is not happy to see Ziggy home, as he clearly is interested in Simeon. This story is so nicely developed and really builds on the relationship between Simeon and Ziggy. Their book is short and very focused on a specific moment in time, so I really liked this chance to catch up with them and see how things have bloomed for the pair.
Overall, I found this a great great anthology. I loved the stories and so enjoyed reconnecting with so many favorite characters. Morton manages to bring in some wonderful moments that tie nicely to the main books, while also making these stories engaging and entertaining on their own. If you are a fan of Morton’s work, this one is definitely worth checking out.