A short story by Sigrid Nunez, “The Plan” (2018) has as its narrator a horrid criminal—a serial murderer of women. The author harbors no sympathy for him—he wants more culture (i.e. the arts) in his life but also, on the last page, he strangles a whore because murder “was one of the things whores were for.” (He never learns anything.) Yet Nunez underscores the strange truth that a human being, like me and thee, is responsible for this wanton slaughter. Why? Is it not true that nothing human is alien to us?

“The Plan” is a propulsive fiction written with many short paragraphs. It is cruelly honest, as it should be, but does not descend to nihilism, cheap or otherwise. Maybe, just maybe, it gets close, though.

No doubt it is one of “the best American short stories” of the year it was published, found in the 2019 book of the same name.