Issue #140: Man-O-War

I grew up on the North Shore of Boston, where fireworks are always shot over the water, a spectacle best watched from the cold sand of the beach at night, or, if you’re lucky, a boat, where folks blast air horns in approval at the sight of the best explosions. It was just before the 4th of July when I first read Claire Vaye Watkins’s “Man-O-War,” and all those memories came flooding back, but without the water. Set on a desert lakebed in Nevada, this beautiful short story follows an old miner named Harris, still working his few small claims and hoping one day to strike gold. On the side, he wakes up early on the morning of July 5th and scavenges fireworks left behind in the desert by local drunken teenagers. What he finds instead one day is a young pregnant girl, beaten and abandoned. He takes her home and while he cares for her, discovers something he thought he’d lost–one last chance to spark to life before burning out into the darkness.  Claire Vaye Watkins does an extraordinary job capturing the spare life of this lonely miner, building the tension of his fragile hopes until the final pages. You can find out more about how Claire wrote this story, and the inspiration behind it, at her Q&A with us. But for now, let’s sit back and watch the show she’s created, and when the colors spin and dazzle and boom, blow our airhorns, OOO and AAAHHH.

4 thoughts on “Issue #140: Man-O-War

  1. Pretty impressive piece. I then read that it took two years to complete and scratched at my stubble and said “Ah, I see.”

    Nonetheless it was very much worth the effort expended and some creatures, like elephants, have a long gestation period.

    If I were writing the end I might have had Harris fall into sadness and depression rather than an anger. He seemed to me to be a very methodical and deliberate individual and a man who clearly internalizes his emotions…but then I suppose, like a firework an individual can appear to be outwardly inert but with a lot of packed in psychic material and then with a small spark can be caused to go off…or wait…was that your intention? Sorry, I’m kind of stupid that way.

    I’m only joking. This was a very humbling piece to read for me it was so well crafted and narrated, with a perfect pacing to boot. I read it three times I think right out of the envelope and I’ll definitely re-read it again. A very nice thing to get in the mail as my first introduction to One-Story.

  2. This story of a man’s brush with a renewed sense of hope and meaning was powerful. The atmosphere was engrossing, I was not surprised to find the author was from the area described in the story but was welcomed into the setting by how well she presented it. The characters too, for how distant and turbulent they were, were surprisingly accessible. Their connections and disconnections as they carve out a friendship drove the story. I read on wanting to know how these two’s lives would end up and when it turned out that events would not work out well for Harris you could not help but wonder if he would be able to recover.

    “Man-O-War” stands on its own as a tale of people trying to find what they are missing and nearly locating it in a place they were not expecting. I did not expect it to end as it did, but the story as it is has such a powerful message that upon finishing it I could not imagine it differently. It is a commendable and memorable piece.

  3. A little late reading this issue, but it’s a excellent story and well written.
    I’m looking forward to reading much more by Claire Vaye Watkins.

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