I’ve been a fan of Andrea Barrett’s work for many years. She is perhaps best known for her National Book Award-winning novel Ship Fever. But she is also an accomplished short story writer, and her astonishing collection, Servants of the Map, which was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize, is one of my favorite books. Her new short story, “Archangel,” (being published as a special double issue here at One Story) follows in the footsteps of these earlier works, seamlessly tying together the world of science and history with the emotional lives of her characters. Set in 1917, “Archangel” concerns Eudora, a young American X-Ray technician, working at a hospital for soldiers fighting after the armistice, during the allied intervention in Russia. As she tries to help the wounded, Eudora meets a young soldier named Boyd who has injured his leg–a piece of bone, from a fallen friend, has been blown into his body from an explosion. As Boyd’s story begins to unfold, it draws Eudora closer to him, until she understands that he wants what they all desperately want: to go home. Echoes of the current wars in Iraq and Afghanistan are woven throughout this skillful tale, and the emotionally gripping conclusion sets “Archangel” among the best short stories I’ve read in a long, long time. Visit Andrea Barrett’s Q&A to find out more about how she wrote this compelling piece. Personally, I loved the factual detailing, as well as the repetition of words, and the image of the icy toboggan run that made me fear that Boyd would take his own life. The final turn in “Archangel” moved me to tears, and I believe captures the feeling of this nation as we head into the New Year–in desperate need of good news and hopeful for better times, but still facing a long, cold winter.
I love letters. I miss getting them in the mail. These days everyone communicates via email–that instant gratifier. But somehow, at least for me, email never reaches the same level of confidence. Reading someone else’s letters, such as
Raymond Carver and Gordon Lish, or the new volume of Robert Lowell and Elizabeth Bishop’s correspondence can be illuminating, as well as giving you the guilty pleasure of eavesdropping on an intimate conversation. It’s this exposure that Ben Greeman plays with in our new issue, “The Tremulant.” Here the married narrator, Francisco Ramirez, writes to his lover, who has just left him for another man. In the letters, we see their relationship through the ugly break-up–which spurs his desire to write–then follow his memory back to their first meeting, up until their last goodbye. As the story progresses, the reader realizes that Francisco’s letters have never been sent. They are his attempts to maintain a connection to someone who no longer loves him. Ben Greenman tells the story simply and flawlessly, drawing out the meaning of words, and showing how difficult it really is to communicate with any accuracy, especially when our emotions are involved. Ben also continues this exploration of the letter form in his new book, Correspondences, just out with Hotel St. George Press, in a beautiful, handmade letter-press edition (later editions will include this story). This book, and this story, are both tributes to the lost art of letter writing, and reflect how, though we are now able to communicate with greater speed and efficiency, people find it harder to connect.
The latest Pushcart Prize anthology is in stores now and features two stories that we are especially excited about: “Reasons For and Advantages of Breathing” by Lydia Peelle (originally published as One Story issue #87) and “North Of” by One Story Assistant Editor Marie Bertino (originally published in Mississippi Review.) Marie works tirelessly behind the scenes at One Story, so we’re delighted to see her in the spotlight for a change. Congratulations, Lydia and Marie!
The January/February issue of Poets and Writers features an outstanding interview with four of the hottest young literary agents today: Renee Zuckerbrot, Julie Barer, Daniel Lazar and Jeff Kleinman. This “new guard” for bright young writers got together over dinner and wine to have a candid talk about the challenges facing editors, writers and agents. The advice, mistakes and anecdotes they share are invaluable, refreshingly honest and hilarious, even when Kleinman disses short stories, professing to fall asleep even talking about them.
I’ve been a fan of Lauren Groff’s since her wondrous novel, The Monsters of Templeton, was published, so when a story of hers crossed my desk, I read it with great interest. I was not disappointed. “Sir Fleeting”is the story of a love affair never consummated–full of whimsy and humor and romance. The moment when Ancel de Chair appears, I found myself falling for him, just as our narrator does, with his impeccable manners and diamond tie pin. He is a fantasy, and when the story turns, and begins to weave reality into this magical web, I felt the same splash of cold that came over our poor Bergere. This is classic, old-fashioned storytelling at its best, and I’m looking forward to Lauren Groff’s collection of stories, Delicate, Edible Birds, which will be published in January 2009. To find out more about Lauren and read about how she wrote “Sir Fleeting,” visit our Q&A.
On Friday, December 5th, One Story author and all around nice person Kirsten Sundberg Lunstrum joined us at Pianos to read from her beautiful, just-released story collection, Swimming with Strangers. Ron Carlson says: “”There is a bittersweet and real pressure at the outset of each of these stories, and we read thinking it will ease, but it will not. Kirsten Lunstrum writes well about longing and the aching distance between hearts, which at times is so close yet still unbridged. This is a terrific book of engaging fiction about real people.” (This book would make a great gift for all the readers on your list.) We were thrilled to see some new One Story subscribers at the reading and hope to see more of you in January.
As Publisher’s Weekly reported last week, Houghton Mifflin has put a freeze on acquisitions. Meaning, of course, that the publisher has instructed editors not to acquire books. This has led many editors, agents and writers to wonder which publishing house will be next. The publishing industry is taking a beating from the recession, as are the universities that employ many of our country’s writers. (Many colleges have put a freeze on hiring, prompting a lot of handwringing among young academics about to go on the job market.) This depressing economic news means that some good books won’t get published, that others will go out of print faster than they should and that some talented editors, agents and writers in the making may lose faith and go to law school. (Although law firms are laying people off too.) So if you love to read, put your money where your mouth is. Hardcover books are not cheap. But for the price of say, one and a half packs of cigarettes, you could buy Sana Krasikov’s excellent story collection, One More Year. (And aren’t you trying to quit anyway?) And for less than the price of a taxi ride from Williamsburg, Brooklyn to the Upper West Side of Manhattan, you could pre-order Lauren Groff’s Delicate Edible Birds. (If you’re like me, you get nauseated in cabs–too much stopping and starting. Added bonus to taking the much cheaper subway: you can read on the train!) You can get More Than it Hurts You by Darin Strauss for less than the price of two movie tickets. Or ten copies of Fiona Maazel’s Last Last Chance (give it to all your friends!) for less than these shoes.