On my first trip to Rome, I visited the Capuchin Crypt, beneath the Santa Maria della Concezione dei Cappuccini. Inside those underground caverns I discovered a true Momento Mori—thousands of skeletons of Capuchin monks, deconstructed to form elaborate frescoes and decorative arches—as well as a sign that read: What you are now we used to be; what we are now you will be. The monks, I was told, would pray in the crypt every night before going to sleep, among the vertebrae and femurs and skulls of their brothers. When I first read Jason Zencka’s “Catacombs,” I was reminded of the beauty of that cold, dark place—not just because of the reference to the catacombs and tunnels that the narrator, George, travels to over his life, but because of how perfectly this story captures the mysterious places our minds create and then wander through, when dealing with the loss of someone we love. “Catacombs” breaks so many rules of fiction, slipping through time, playing with point of view, deconstructing its own narrative voice, and yet somehow through this process, it sets its finger exactly on a difficult truth—the guilt of those of us left behind, so desperate to commune and connect that it leads us to find solace and beauty in fragments, whether they are pieces of bone or memory. That this is Jason Zencka’s debut publication makes “Catacombs” all the more special. Please read his Q&A to find out more about this remarkable story, and in the meantime, join me in welcoming a talented new writer to the literary stage.
A few years ago, two close family members of mine were diagnosed with cancer. I’d lost other relatives, friends, and co-workers to the disease before, but this was the first time I was dealing with the day-to-day and sometimes hour-to-hour intricacies of care-taking, surgeries, treatment side-effects, hospital visits, and health insurance. The anxiety, strangeness, intimacy, love, helplessness, humanity, and at times, God-help me, dark humor of that experience came rushing back as I read Charles Bock’s “Case Studies.” Set as a series of fictional medical histories of patients, each record moves quickly from the hard facts of diagnosis to the existential questions of healing, building a mosaic of the daily, quiet heroism of patients and their caregivers, while at the same time condemning the bureaucracy of our current health care system. I encourage everyone to read Charles’s Q&A with us as a companion piece to this extraordinary story, where he talks about his own experience caring for his late wife Diana, his decision to explore this subject matter via fiction instead of memoir, and how “Case Studies” fits into the larger narrative of his highly anticipated forthcoming novel, Alice & Oliver. To steal a phrase from Charles—dealing with cancer sucks rocks. But “Case Studies” is more than just a cancer story. It asks: How do we face our daily lives with dignity and hope when our bodies begin to fail us? Every one of us will have to answer that question someday. But we don’t have to do it alone. One of the magical things about fiction is how it creates a mirror of interior worlds. Moments of recognition. When you find one of them on the page, you feel it in your bones. Yes, you think. Exactly. That is exactly how it feels. And you know that you have found a fellow traveler. In these brief medical histories, “Case Studies” introduces us to six such fellow travelers as they navigate the treacherous path of illness, exploring the failures, sorrows, hopes, and mysteries of the human experience.
A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away, I was an editorial intern working at The Atlantic Monthly. One of the big perks of the job was the giant pile of galleys (also known as ARCs—Advanced Reading Copies) that the assistants and interns were allowed to peruse and take home, once the editors had finished reviewing them. It didn’t matter that these were little more than loosely-bound manuscripts. They were FREE BOOKS and very exciting to an avid reader like me, who spent any extra money from my paycheck at bookstores. Galleys gave us a special “sneak peek” into a book six or eight months before it was published, and I discovered that it was thrilling to read a novel or memoir before anyone else had turned its pages. One of the very first galleys I chose from the Atlantic’s pile was Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni’s unforgettable collection of short stories, Arranged Marriage. I have strong memories of reading those enchanting tales, and so, now, many years later, when a NEW galley of Divakaruni’s work passed my desk, I jumped at the chance to publish her in One Story. Set in India, “Durga Sweets” skips from moment to moment, telling the story of a relationship backwards in time. Together with the delightful bachelor Bipin Bihari and the savvy sweet shop owner Sabitri, we travel from their final parting towards the unforgettable moment when these characters first meet. Woven between these many years is a deep unrequited love, as well as marvelous confections of mango, cardamom, and saffron, created by Sabitri at her shop, Durga Sweets. Read our Q&A with Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni, where she discusses how she wrote this lovely story, and shares a special recipe for Sandesh! In the meantime, I hope you will all enjoy this moving tribute to loyalty and friendship, and consider this issue of One Story your own personal “galley” to Divakaruni’s marvelous forthcoming novel-in-stories, Before We Visit the Goddess.
Our next issue, “The Savior of Gladstone County” introduces an exciting new voice, J.F. Glubka. Contributing Editor Will Allison brought this marvelous piece to our pages, and so I’m turning the introduction reins over to him. I hope you all enjoy this story as much as I did. -HT
is the question faced by Henry Heinrich, the protagonist of J.F. Glubka’s “The Savior of Gladstone County” (issue #213).
When Henry discovers his gift, he doesn’t try to get rich. Or seek fame. Or resolve to save the world. In fact, he doesn’t do much of anything until a friend coaxes him into serving as an “angel” for the people of their rural community.
For Henry, though, being an angel isn’t all wings and halos. “By thirty-five his hair was white,” writes Glubka, “and he’d stopped hunting and fishing. He drank more and ate less. He’d stare at the TV with the sound turned down to a hush and the lights dimmed. Too much stimulation gave him headaches. He’d let the sweetheart he’d married at nineteen divorce him with hardly a protest.” Cheating death has drained the life out of Henry.
That all changes when he meets Francis Friday, an eccentric, young divorcee and the sister of a girl Henry once saved. Henry falls in love, and Francis falls for Henry too. The problem is, Francis is also in love with Henry’s gift. And as she begins to test the limits of his power, she sets in motion a chain of events that threatens to destroy more than just their relationship.
I hope you find “The Savior of Gladstone County” as riveting as we did. And be sure to check out our Q&A with J.F. Glubka to learn about his approach to supernatural subject matter, the best writing advice he has received, and how this story was influenced by his stint as a nighttime security guard in Portland, Oregon.
“Be a sadist. No matter how sweet and innocent your leading characters, make awful things happen to them—in order that the reader may see what they are made of.”
I often quote this Kurt Vonnegut line to my students. It’s great advice for writers trying to create compelling fiction on the page. But as a reader, I sometimes find it hard to keep turning the pages as horrible events are heaped onto my favorite characters. I want them to have happy endings instead. This contradiction got me thinking about happiness as a literary device. It’s just as layered and complex as anger or hate, but authors often avoid it in their work. Why? I wondered. So I asked around. The truth of the matter seems to be this: happiness is really, really, really hard to pull off—in life, and in literature. Luckily, in our new issue, “When in the Dordogne,” we’re in the talented hands of author Lily King. Set over one magical summer, the story begins as a lonely boy is left in the care of two house-sitting college students. These young men are bristling with energy and joie-de-vivre, and in between raiding the fridge and cannonballing into the pool, they teach our boy lessons about friendship and love and finding joy that he carries with him for the rest of his life. Happiness is rare, and wonderful. When it comes, we must grab it with both hands. So read more about Lily King in her Q&A with us, and hold tight onto “When in the Dordogne.”
Growing up, I loved to read classic horror tales, like Edgar Allan Poe’s “The Tell-Tale Heart” and “The Monkey’s Paw” by W. W. Jacobs. There was something electric about the writing in those stories that shocked and disturbed, while also revealing dark, mysterious truths about human nature. A similar sense of touching a live wire came through the first time I picked up our new issue, Gabrielle Lucille Fuentes’s “The Elephant’s Foot.” Set in a Catholic School in the 1960s, this captivating story focuses on four young girls pushing the boundaries of their friendship and their imaginations after a mysterious object (an elephant’s foot!) enters their lives. Everything about the foot is extraordinary—from the wild stories about its origins to the way it haunts, then alters, each of the girls. Read Gabrielle’s Q&A with us to find out more about the inspiration behind this chilling tale, which arrives just in time for Halloween.
I’m writing this in the final moments of summer, which always feel both relaxing and fraught. I spend every minute I can outdoors, enjoying the last of the good weather, and at the same time, I wonder at how fast the days have gone by. Luckily, I have Victoria Redel’s remarkable story, “That Summer, ’53,” to help me remember the smell of BBQ cooking, the cool joy of jumping into a cold lake, and the lazy stretch of a summer night with friends, sipping drinks and watching the sun filter pink and orange through the trees. Set in 1953, this bucolic lakeside life is the American dream for Serge Solta and his young Russian family, their own little piece of Shangri-La. But things are more complicated than they seem in Serge’s work life and his marriage. The McCarthy hearings and the Rosenberg executions are broadcasting through everyone’s TV sets, and soon Serge finds himself caught between two worlds, muffling his misgivings with Seabreeze cocktails and the rhythm of Pérez Prado’s “Mambo Number Five” while trying to keep Shangri-La from slipping through his fingers. Check out Victoria Redel’s Q&A with us to hear the family history behind this sharply-turned tale. Then it’s time to get out your vintage cocktail shaker, fix yourself a Gin-and-It, open the pages of “That Summer, ’53,” and enjoy a literary Indian summer.
In the 1960s my mother worked as a librarian in Brookline, Massachusetts. She still talks about how the building was a lifeline to the community there–not only for students and families but also for the elderly, the unemployed, the lost and the dispossessed. At libraries, people who can’t afford an education (or even a newspaper) have access to books from around the world. At the very least they can find quiet and shelter until the stacks close at night. Our new issue, “Things I Know to Be True” by Kendra Fortmeyer, explores the library as refuge through the unique voice of Charlie Harrison, a Vietnam vet struggling to tell the difference between fact and fiction. Charlie uses books to escape the visions in his head, but when an incident gets him banned from his local library, he must find a way to build his own stories, and eventually face the past he has been hiding from. In Kendra’s Q&A, she discusses the challenges of creating a point of view like Charlie’s, and how libraries have played a role in her own past (and future—as she is now in library school!). “Things I Know to Be True” is an important story about trauma, mental illness, family, and the power of words. I hope it will inspire some of you to dust off your old library cards. There is a whole world waiting at your local branch, and with any luck, a friendly librarian, who can put the right book into your hands.
It is an enormous thrill to be publishing Bonnie Jo Campbell in the pages of One Story. I’ve been a fan every since I read her collection, Women & Other Animals. Everyone should be pre-ordering her new book, which includes our current issue, “Mothers, Tell Your Daughters.” This marvelous tale inhabits a voice that will charm, shock, and ultimately haunt you. With gratitude, I’m turning the introduction reins over to Contributing Editor Will Allison, who brought this wonderful writer to our pages. –HT
In our latest story, the narrator of Bonnie Jo Campbell’s “Mothers, Tell Your Daughters” (issue #208) is a tough woman—widow, mother of six, smoker, drinker, drowner of kittens, butcher of chickens and cows, breaker of horses, lover of men. But most of all she’s a talker; indeed, talking is, as Campbell puts it our author interview, “her great power.”
The problem is, this woman just had a stroke. She can hardly speak a word as she lies in bed in the old Michigan farmhouse her father built, cared for by nurses and her estranged daughter, Sis. “Now she can only try to explain her life to herself,” says Campbell. “Probably it’s what we all end up doing in the end.”
What this narrator has to say about her life might surprise you. She’s proud of the fact that she didn’t worry about her kids when she raised them. She doesn’t regret letting her husband and boyfriends beat her children. She refuses to apologize for allowing her kids to eat PBB and lead paint. And she doesn’t really like when her grandchildren visit. (What she’d really like, at the moment, is a jelly jar of elderberry wine.) As much as she wants to believe she lived her life right, however, she does have a few regrets, one in particular involving her boyfriend Bill Theroux and Sis. But if that sounds like the sort of regret you’ve read about before, get ready for another surprise.
We’re thrilled to present the title story from Campbell’s forthcoming collection; it features one of the strongest and most distinctive characters we’ve encountered in a long time—a woman you might come to love in spite of yourself, and a woman you definitely won’t forget. If you’d like to learn about the inspiration for this character—and find out which two words Campbell never uses in her fiction—be sure to check out our author interview.
One of my favorite school memories involves a giant parachute. Once a month, our gym teacher would unroll the colorful fabric. My class would stretch across the floor and play games, raising it up and down, catching the air. There was something magical about that moment, when we were all under the parachute together, and I remembered it vividly when I first read our new issue, “Safety” by Lydia Fitzpatrick. This finely-wrought tale explores a difficult subject: school shootings. The material might seem a bit daunting to some readers, but I will say now that if you do not open this story, you will be missing out on an astonishing accomplishment of suspense and point of view, that somehow turns a deplorable situation into a moment of courage, faith, hope and connection. Check out Lydia’s Q&A with us about how she explored her own fears while writing this compelling story. And when you’ve finished, you might find yourself thinking of your old gym teacher who always made you run extra laps, and the thrill of lifting a parachute over your head with the rest of your class. All those tiny hands making something enormous happen, with material strong enough to save lives, and still thin enough to let the light shine through.