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The Long Story – 2011

The Long Story is, according to its website, “the only literary magazine in America devoted strictly” to stories of between 8000 and 20,000 words. The magazine is “not likely to accept literary experimentation,” editorial taste runs to the deeply human, estranged but involved, and it wants its voices respectful and compassionate. These qualities infuse the nine superb stories in this issue. Somewhere between short story and novella, each of them requires an investment of time and thought on the part of the reader—and each gives a remarkable return.

The Long Story is, according to its website, “the only literary magazine in America devoted strictly” to stories of between 8000 and 20,000 words. The magazine is “not likely to accept literary experimentation,” editorial taste runs to the deeply human, estranged but involved, and it wants its voices respectful and compassionate. These qualities infuse the nine superb stories in this issue. Somewhere between short story and novella, each of them requires an investment of time and thought on the part of the reader—and each gives a remarkable return.

“Capri,” for example, by Barbara Snow, takes us to that lovely island with Jen and her friend Kit, who have come ostensibly to recover from harrowing cancer treatments, to recover equanimity after so much pain. We see and feel the island’s capacity for peace giving from the first paragraph: “[Jen] didn’t know the slightest breeze could instantly charge the surface of water and send out an army of small ripples that gathered speed and size as they moved toward shore […] that waves crashing against rocks turned into white crystals exploding in ancient crevasses carved out over centuries […] [that] she could spend hours staring at the scene […] and never become bored with it. Kit knew.”

They’re privileged. Kit, who’s paying, spends extravagantly on the friend who held her hand through the worst of the treatment, who helped her want to live. They’re staying at a villa far larger than they need, its rooms cleaned daily by the third protagonist, Amina, a Nigerian immigrant whose life is a stark contrast to theirs. If there is an antagonist, it’s unknowing privilege, or self-absorption. As the plot unfolds, they discover Amina’s need and decide, rather impulsively, to fill it. My favorite thing about this story, aside from the lovely descriptions of Capri, is precisely that compassion that Long Story’s website stipulates. Kit and Jen take so much pleasure in helping Amina that the “punch line” (which I will not give away) takes us perfectly by surprise, and just as perfectly satisfies us.

“Capri” is thirty-six pages long. It is also Snow’s first published story. Both of these facts are relevant as The Long Story acknowledges that certain stories require length, development, circling around and back to certain truths about the human condition. I think “Capri” embodies a key theme for The Long Story: kindness matters. It saves lives. I like that. And I also like that a writer whose previous work is in a different genre (playwriting), produced in a different decade, has the chance she deserves to be seen and appreciated in this magazine.

S. L. Ferraro’s “Blood Pressure” is shorter—fifteen pages—but equally compassionate, equally well-written and deserving of at least a second read. I was surprised by how much more I saw in the second reading—I loved it the first time through, but this is Good Literature—the first three paragraphs rang with twice as much significance after I’d read to the end. “Blood Pressure” is a lovely story about respect, its absence and re-entry into the world of the protagonist. The story takes us on two journeys—the present one, and its predecessor—until “[she makes] it out. Escaped. Again.” Again, we are satisfied, filled with the sense of sorrow that accompanies any hard thing whose final outcome is imperfect but just. It pleases me that The Long Story embraces stories with satisfying, even uplifting outcomes.

My favorite of the nine stories is James Carpenter’s “Reclassified.” I’m not entirely convinced it’s fiction—its first-person protagonist, named James Carpenter, sounds like he’s telling us his own story. At any rate, a “long story” it is, in a delightful voice neither self-deprecating nor self-serving but, in a witty and understated way, highly self-respectful, articulate and pitch-perfect. I think “respect,” for a writer, begins and ends with respect for the language—and in the middle comes self-respect, inevitably.

“Reclassified” begins at a student sit-in at the Lincoln Memorial in the late 1960s, where twenty-year-old James decides once and for all he’s not going to war when he sees the callous brutality of the armed forces brought in to stop the demonstration. We see his efforts to escape the draft, which are ultimately successful. But what sparkles in this wonderful story is the appeal to our post-Vietnam sensibility. Of course war is brutal. Of course most of us don’t want to go to war. And of course there is an entire ubiquitous military system whose devotion to war, to order, to serving some ideal, is frightening in its power and inevitability. Carpenter, who according to his bio began writing fiction three years ago, has already been nominated for numerous awards. I have no doubt we’ll see more of him—and I saw him first in The Long Story, for which I’ll always be grateful.
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