Issue #109: The Good Word

When you first pick up “The Good Word” by Yannick Murphy, I’m sure you will think the same thing I did: Hemingway. Yannick’s sentences are short and direct, and create the same kind of tension as Hemingway’s sparse prose. The situation also has echoes: two women travelers in a foreign country, who meet another tourist, a German, on their way to a vacation spot on the beach, and end up witnessing an old man wrestling with the final days of his masculinity. Although these elements feel like nods to the bearded master, from the first page Yannick makes this story entirely her own. The moment I read: “…the people all looked like they had been on the last bus and the chickens on their laps looked the same as the chickens who had been on the last bus,” I knew that this was something entirely new–a free-wheeling and excitingly fresh styling of words. Yannick’s writing sparkles with energy, and at the same time, she never allows the style to overwhelm the reader, or to distract from the wonderfully solid plot and characters. Read Yannick’s Q&A to find out more about how she crafted this story–and I do mean craft. “The Good Word” is everything we hoped an issue of One Story would be: a stand alone work of true art.

1 thought on “Issue #109: The Good Word

  1. Before reading Yannick Murphy’s story, I turned to the blurb at the back of the issue to see what else she had written; impressed by that information, I began “The Good Word” with high hopes. Like the editors/staff of ONE STORY, I recalled Hemingway’s well known short-sentence style as I read the first two pages. Unlike them, I found the word “parody” came to my mind. Further, her sentences seemed choppy and lacked the continuity and relevance that those in even the weakest Hemingway story have.

    Having taken German courses three times in the past, it seemed probable to me that the unspecified “good word” must be “gemütlich” (conveying coziness, warmth, and snugness in a family setting; pronounced almost like guh-MOOT-lick, but not quite). Having an interest in natural history, it also seemed probable to me that the unnamed country being visited was probably India or Bangladesh (near where “blind” river dolphins live in the delta of the Brahmaputra and the Ganges Rivers). I have no idea why the author (or her narrator) withheld these bits of information from readers.

    For the most part I was disappointed by this story. The physical details about Iris’s bad shoulder did not jibe at all with my own dozen experiences with shoulder dislocations, and the psychology of the five main characters was not particularly interesting to me, including the veiled jealousy of the narrator towards her more “desired” companion, Iris. The various scenes of the story did not seem to build any story arc that I could recognize, and the terminating scene where people on a bus all speak “the good word” seemed to be a gimmick rather than a real conclusion that is related causally to earlier events and states of mind.

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