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One Story – 2009

One Story subscribers – there are more than 3,000 – receive one “great short story” in the mail every three weeks or so. The story (as object) is a handy size, small enough to fit in a handbag or briefcase or knapsack. It has a simple cover, just the author and title, and a brief bio note and magazine contact info at the back. A clean design. Easy to read. Easy to keep or share. The story is complemented on-line with a Q&A with the author and a link to the one-story blog (I notice people rarely comment on the stories, although they do respond to the editors’ literary and publishing news and opinions).

One Story subscribers – there are more than 3,000 – receive one “great short story” in the mail every three weeks or so. The story (as object) is a handy size, small enough to fit in a handbag or briefcase or knapsack. It has a simple cover, just the author and title, and a brief bio note and magazine contact info at the back. A clean design. Easy to read. Easy to keep or share. The story is complemented on-line with a Q&A with the author and a link to the one-story blog (I notice people rarely comment on the stories, although they do respond to the editors’ literary and publishing news and opinions).

The magazine’s contributors include an eclectic variety of writers (Rachel Cantor, Ron Carlson, Ben Greenman, Valerie Trueblood, Steve Almond, Imad Rahman, and Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, among many others). One Story has assigned itself the mission of “saving the short story” by providing single stories in a “friendly format” that can fit “into your life.”

Andrea Barrett’s story, “Archangel,” fits into our lives on multiple levels: “I wrote this because of the war in Iraq,” she writes in the Q&A, “to me the analogies are striking and I’m sure that’s why the material seized me so firmly.” The story, based on Barrett’s historical research, for which is deservedly known and admired, centers on soldiers and civilian personnel (a woman X-ray technician) required by the United States government to remain in Russia after the Armistice (post-WWI). I had not known prior to reading the story that US soldiers remained in places like Archangel (a place I had also not known of) when the war was over. Barrett had been unfamiliar with this chapter of history, as well, and she discusses her challenge to “set the context and the situation for readers” in the on-line interview.

Barrett has written much wonderful work based on her impeccable historical research. She renders inhospitable climates, harsh living conditions, the delicate relations between the genders, the work that happens in these environments, and specific cultural and social realities more than merely credibly. Her characters’ emotional realities come to life against and inside of these artfully, expertly crafted recreations of earlier eras. We care about her characters because she has made us believe in their circumstances and challenges. Barrett writes convincingly about what it’s like to live and work in a war zone as a “non-combatant,” and presents with equal skill the imagined lives (and deaths) of soldiers.

A traditional narrative, this rather long short story, comes, happily, to what I like to think of as a “true conclusion” – an emotional payoff that satisfies me. After I’ve left the story, I think about the locations and characters and issues the story has summoned and find that I know what they want, and what I want for them. What most readers of Barrett’s story will want, I suspect, is more from Barrett (do read her earlier stories and novels, if you haven’t), and another issue of One Story.
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