One Story Issue #260: Maria Lioutaia’s “Sand People”

I was on a sabbatical when ONE STORY co-founder (and all-around brilliant person) Hannah Tinti stepped in to guest-edit our new issue, so I’m turning the introduction mic over to her. Heeeeeere’s Hannah! –PR

Living by the sea is one thing in spring and summer and something else entirely after winter sets in. The beaches are deserted, the sky turns gray and the cold wind seeps deep inside your bones. But there is a magic to winter beaches–the open emptiness, the twisted driftwood and monstrous carcasses of boats and creatures that wash onto the shore. It casts a spell, just like the kind Maria Lioutaia does in her wildly creative short story, “Sand People.”

Set on an isolated peninsula for lost souls, “Sand People” begins with the depositing of an orphan boy into the home of his aunts, a set of conjoined twins. These witchy aunts make him skirts of seagull feathers and teach him how to weave nightmare catchers but also warn him to stay away from the Sand People–the human-shaped holes that glide up and down their shoreline. These sand shadows are captivating and ultimately heartbreaking, just as the affections and jealousies that rise in this three-legged, broken family. “Sand People” is about aloneness and togetherness. About the sucking pulls of despair and the saving ties of connection.

I hope you’ll read our author Q&A, where we discuss the inspiration behind “Sand People,” and how to find balance with the strange and the surreal. It’s exciting to see the leaps of fierce imagination on the page, and a thrill to wade into these winter waters with Maria Lioutaia. You never know what will be conjured next.

5 thoughts on “One Story Issue #260: Maria Lioutaia’s “Sand People”

  1. I loved this story. It’s a great reminder of what the written word can do that a visual medium cannot: leave the important parts to the reader’s imagination. I was touched and horrified and didn’t want it to end (though it did so perfectly). Beautiful work!

  2. A wonderful story, evocative and otherworldly. I would like to know more about this weird world, about the Sand People–you know, their ontology, as we call it–and also about what’s going on in the physical landscape. What are these “gravity storms,” for example? And what has happened to make the Sand People’s existence possible? Finally, I’d like to have more about the conjoined twin point of view. I never read a story told from this perspective, and I’d like to learn more about this narrator or these narrators. It seems to me, in short, that this work should be made into a novel, maybe not a long one, say 50,000 words. I would love to read it, and I think a lot of others would too!

  3. This story did more than intrigue me, it gave me something profoundly personal and psychological to chew on. First, I am a retired psychotherapist. As a person, I have always had attachment issues, quite probably from growing up in an environment where my parents pretty much emotionally abandoned my brother and me. He and I searched all our lives to have successful relationships. He died young from a far too profound relationship with alcohol. I just continued to struggle, hoping to find someone to give me the emotional support that my parents never did. Such an effort can lead to searching for one’s identity in another person if that person satisfies one’s need for emotional support. Not good. So this is how I see the two sisters (talking about co-dependent!), and when one of them begins to have a caring relationship outside the cluster of the two of them, she separates and the other loses her identity and possibly turns and falls into one of the holes on the beach. I see all the Sand People coming to the beach to complete their disappearing act from life because they have also lost their identities, don’t really exist anymore.This is tantamount to suicide, and loss of identity is a major construct in the minds of many, many suicide victims. Psychotherapists can overthink most anything, but this story really hit home to me.

  4. For me personally, this one is up there with Leo In Venice by Samantha SIlva. The gritty, cold world set up. The mechanics of what goes on and the lonely, isolated life that surrounds these few characters.

    Like Frank said above, there’s a couple of aspects that are hinted on, such as gravity storms and the process behind the creation of the Sand People that I would love to read more about.

    Might I add, the (for lack of a more specific term) the magic that takes place? How is it possible? Where’s it come from?

    So many questions haha.

    A thought that just entered my mind while writing my comments down is that while reading I envisioned the environment in black and white but the characters in color. The beach and the house seemed so unforgiving but the characters seemed to be filled with hope.

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