Issue #114 & 115: Archangel

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.

2 thoughts on “Issue #114 & 115: Archangel

  1. I agree, one of the best stories I read in a while. The title of the story combined with the fact that it was published around the holidays led me to expect something completely different (to paraphrase Steve Stern, author of “The Angel of Forgetfulness”, there’s no better way to guarantee a story’s mediocrity than to stick the word “Angel” in the title). But this was phenomenal. Thank you!

  2. I don’t know a lot about the involvement of the Allies in trying to alter the history of Russia, but I am familiar with a few things about that general period–Dr. Zhivago & Reds as films & Maugham’s Ashenden or the Secret Agent (in which the final chapter involves the Brits trying to keep the Bolsheviks from power).

    Clearly, this author is one of the most talented you have published lately. Still, the story didn’t seem to cover much about Russians or the way the city Archangel looked then, which made it less credible to me than (say) Maugham’s story (which was supposedly based on his own work as an agent). Also, Its ending depends entirely on the man’s attempt to injure himself, not on the woman’s reaction(s) to this, & she has otherwise been the center of our focus. We don’t know how badly he hurt himself (did he break a knee or hip? did he lose his leg? or what?) & especially we don’t find out how HER reaction(s) to this–which should be a crucial element in the story. There is no compelling reason why the author could not have added a page or two letting us know instead of leaving us to guess (does she blame herself for what he has done? does she become more isolated from then on, or less, or what?). We can guess that HE (suddenly the center of our attention) HAS found a way to get himself out of the war, but we also know that he will almost certainly be in huge trouble for injuring himself. I think the author made a big error in shifting away from the woman at the ending (we get her speculation about his possible injuries as he goes into the air, but we get nothing concrete about the actual injury, nor about her FEELINGS about it).

    About 3 pp. from the end, I began thinking about Edith Wharton’s tragic novel Ethan Frome, & began expecting that the soldier was going to take the woman on a sleigh/slay ride into the river & drown them both–then that he would drown himself. I think either of those events would have been better than what we are given, although I do appreciate the parallels the author has set up relative to the current war in Iraq & the excessive & unreasonable burdens the Bush administraton placed on them.

    Otherwise, i think readers should have been given maybe 50 more words of background on the woman’s personality, early in the story–was she ever outgoing? or not? if not, why? If so, what caused the closing down in her? (I felt we get too little, too late, explaining about her personality.)

    I am very fond of stories that leave readers with unsolved mysteries–but there ought to be a reason for doing so & not just the author’s arbitrary decision to conceal information from us.

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