Selected Shorts: Family Values

Guest host David Sedaris presents two stories about the powerful pull of family.

Patricia Highsmith is best known for her taut psychological thrillers, like The Talented Mr. Ripley and Strangers on a Train, but “The Door is Always Open and the Welcome Mat is Out” is a brilliant character study of an independent New York woman driven to a complete frazzle by the impending visit of a judgmental sister.  Sedaris says that Highsmith doesn’t get enough credit for her humor, but in this read Tandy Cronyn perfectly balances the story’s comedy and pathos.

Tobias Wolff’s “Powder” seems like a simple father and son tale.  They’ve been on a skiing holiday, and now they’re stranded in a blizzard on Christmas Eve.  But outside the frame of the story is a disapproving ex-wife and anxious mother, and she’s the reason the story,  which was chosen for the volume The Best American Short Stories of 1997 by Annie Proulx, has a powerful emotional pull beyond its plot line.  Somewhere along the line, the child becomes the man, and the man becomes the child, and both have an excellent adventure.  The story was read with gusto by SHORTS’ late host and founder Isaiah Sheffer

Wolff is the author of the short story collections In the Garden of the North American Martyrs, The Night in Question, from which this story comes, and Our Story Begins: New and Selected Stories, as well as the memoirs This Boy’s Life, and In Pharaoh’s Army, among other works. 

Among his awards are the Rea Award for the Short Story, the O. Henry Award, and The Story Prize for Our Story Begins, for which there is an audio book edition:

“Where the Door is Always Open and the Welcome Mat is Out,” by Patricia Highsmith, performed by Tandy Cronyn

“Powder,” by Tobias Wolff, performed by Isaiah Sheffer

The SELECTED SHORTS theme is David Peterson's “That's the Deal,” performed by the Deardorf/Peterson Group.

For additional works featured on SELECTED SHORTS, please visit

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And for more thoughts on the stories in SHORTS, check out literary commentator Hannah Tinti’s site at