Lit Mag Delivers Powerful Prose, One Story at a Time
One Story is published monthly, one story at a time, in the style of a chapbook, giving each issue a distinctive feel. Its stories have appeared in the Best American series and have won the Pushcart Prize, the O. Henry Prize, and numerous other distinctions. One Teen Story has been a companion publication since 2012, publishing work for and, at times, by teenagers. Though this sample from One Teen Story features two adult writers, its format is changing in 2017. From now on, it will be published quarterly, and will feature work only by writers between the ages of thirteen and nineteen. Additionally, One Teen Story will be included with a normal One Story subscription.
One Story is generally recognized as one of the top literary journals in the country, and the grouping of the following stories, published from September to December 2016, confirms that legacy. The diversity of ages, genders, and career statuses are encouraging for readers and writers alike. The stories are all good, though some do stand above the rest. For those looking to dig deeper, the work is supplemented by author interviews at one-story.com. Because each piece represents an independent issue, I’ve decided to comment on them separately.
“In the Neighborhood.” Jess Rafalko. One Story. Issue Number 223. December 15, 2016.
Jess Rafalko is an MFA candidate at The Ohio State University. She lists only one previous publication, but her work brims with the confidence of an experienced writer. In her story, the narrator, Angela, has relocated to Vermont with her husband, Hank, after a family tragedy. Formerly an ER nurse, Angela is now a self-described “free-sample lady” at the local grocery store. Bitter, and clearly traumatized by an event that comes into full focus as the story builds, Angela lashes out at everyone, but especially her husband, who is patient, kind, and under strain as well.
At times Angela’s derision can be overpowering, but for the most part it’s balanced by her own profound sadness and by Rafalko’s gorgeous writing. One of her final paragraphs is especially poignant; Rafalko writes, “They say an approaching tornado sounds like a train, but really it sounds like your own thoughts rushing past one another, bumping shoulders, strangers in a crowd. The aftermath sounds like this, right now, outside our window: nothing.”
“The Quality of Your Life.” Min Jin Lee. One Story. Issue Number 222. November 15, 2016.
Min Jin Lee is the author of the bestselling novel Free Food for Millionaires, as well as the newly published Pachinko. Her writing has also appeared in numerous cultural and culinary magazines. In this story, Sunja, a teenager whose family runs a boarding house, is shopping in the open-air markets of Nampo-dong, a section of Busan in present day South Korea. The story is set in 1932, while Korea is under Japanese control, and the Japanese settlers are openly hostile to the locals, whom they refer to condescendingly as yobos, meaning “dears.”
In this marketplace, Sunja falls under the gaze of Koh Hansu, an older, charismatic fish broker with fine Western clothes. Though she thwarts his advances at first, Hansu manages to coax Sunja into a relationship akin to siblinghood. Inevitably, he comes to regard this boundary much as the Japanese regard the Korean border, ignoring, or perhaps embracing, his own declaration that “People are rotten everywhere you go… You want to see a very bad man? Make an ordinary man successful beyond his imagination. Let’s see how good he is when he can do whatever he wants.”
For Sunja, the most important advice comes from Mrs. Jun, the seaweed ajumma, who tells her, “No matter what, always expect suffering, and just keep working hard.” Lee’s prose is elegant and steady, fully immersive, always drawing the reader eagerly forward.
“Staff Picks.” George Singleton. One Story. Issue Number 221. September 29, 2016.
George Singleton is the most extensively published writer in this bunch, with seven collections of stories, two novels, a book of advice, and over three hundred short stories under his belt. His story, “Staff Picks,” follows Staff Puckett, a woman named after the Staffordshire Puckett dinner plate. Staff has recently been abandoned by her fiancé and has signed up for WCRS’ “Nervous Breakdown” contest. The winner—whoever keeps their hand on a luxury Winnebago the longest—will claim the RV, which Staff hopes to pilot out of town and away from her life. Despite significant preparation, her plans are threatened by a professional bowler and fellow contestant named Landry Harmon, who charms her with compliments and self-effacement.
The story itself is engaging, but numerous clunky attempts at humor bog it down. Singleton makes eight pejorative comments about the blandness of Staff’s face in the first three pages alone: “It was only a coincidence that, having been named after a plate, Staff soon developed a flat visage to match her moniker.” However, “Staff Picks” largely rallies in its second half as it ambles toward its conclusion.
“Love All, Trust Few, Harm None.” Anya Johanna DeNiro. One Teen Story. Volume V, Issue IV. December 18, 2016.
Anya Johanna DeNiro is the author of two short story collections published by Small Bear Press. In this sci-fi story, Josie’s parents have gone into hibernation to provide income for their son, who has since transitioned to female while they slumber in a hardened “debt gel.” A votive candle can restore cognition when Josie wishes to communicate with her parents, but she hasn’t told them how she’s changed. She wants to say, “You can’t see me, but I’m your daughter now.” So many shocking new technological and cultural elements are introduced early in this story that it feels, at times, like a new poet grouping dissonant images to see what sticks. The reader has to crash through clusters of jargon like jammed turnstiles. When DeNiro slows things down, really enters a scene, the writing becomes fluid and enticing. Maryim, a new friend of Josie’s who is fighting to obliterate debt and the body parts it commandeers like a parasite, is an intriguing figure propelling the story forward. When the human elements of the piece share equal space with the sentient threshers and physical manifestations of debt, this becomes a very good story.
“Tres Amores.” Lukas Tallent. One Teen Story. Volume V, Issue III. November 18, 2016.
After patching up a minor head wound, Landon and Aiden are headed to Tres Amores, a dingy Mexican restaurant, for one of Landon’s usual gigs. Aiden is a sort of obsessed lackey, serving as a roadie for Landon, having learned how to handle sound equipment at his command. Landon is on-again off-again dating Sami, but is friends with Anna, who Aiden makes a move on, setting up the usual mish mash of teenage feeling and resentment. Aiden also has a crush on Landon, which anyone for miles around can see. Tallent’s writing is competent, though the story is a slow mover marked by a general tameness of content. As a piece in a larger collection of stories, it might blend in. Here, as a standalone, it leaves a bit to be desired, though not much to be resented. This is Tallent’s first publication. He is an MFA candidate at Emerson College.