In the annals of clever ideas for magazines, the one behind One Story has a place high on the list. According to its Web site, One Story, which appears 18 times a year by subscription only, is no more or less than what it says it is – "a literary magazine that contains one story." The publication is sent to subscribers approximately every three weeks.
One Story, at least in theory, not only boasts a clever premise but an unbeatable one. In these days of hyperconnectivity – when all sorts of media vie for our limited attention – letting literary-minded readers peruse a single story makes enormous sense, especially when most mass-market magazines are cutting back on fiction or doing without it altogether.
But why just one story? The editor and publisher, Hannah Tinti and Maribeth Batcha respectively, anticipated the query. On its Web site, one-story.com, they write: "We believe that short stories are best read alone. They should not be sandwiched in between a review and an exposé on liposuction, or placed after another work of fiction that is so sad or funny or long that the reader is worn out by the time they turn to it. The experience of reading a story by itself is usually found only in MFA programs or writing workshops. This is a shame. Besides, there is always time to read one story."
One Story also makes it easy to get started. If you go to the Web site, you can partake of two free trial issues with no risk. And if you want to subscribe right off the bat, it's a real bargain, considering prices these days – 18 issues for $21.
Now all of this is wonderful in theory, but what about the reality of One Story? The format is nice, small and trim, and the typeset is appealing. But the stories themselves didn't win me over. Perhaps it's wrong for me to judge only on the trial issues I received. The current story is previewed on the Web site, followed by a Q&A with the author. But the little peek offered of "Good Luck" by Kate Walbert was no more engaging than the two stories I was sent.
I received issues No. 67 and No. 68, "The Arrival" by Robin Romm and "The Ledge" by Austin Bunn. Romm's story was skillfully done and kept me engaged to the end, but then I felt cheated. The story is about a family – mother, father, daughter – who have gathered at their cabin at the edge of the water near an Oregon beach town. We don't know much about them except that the mother is dying of cancer. Then a woman appears, washed up on their beach, cold, tired and enigmatic. The mother takes to her. Nothing else much happens. The stray woman remains enigmatic.
But I did read to the end, which is more than I can say for "The Ledge," which I found overwritten and bombastic, as if it had wandered in from the 19th century, which, in itself, isn't a bad thing. I just couldn't figure out what was going on.
One Story remains an experiment, and doubtless an admirable one. For the record, I hope that it does hit its stride, and that many readers do check in.