Short story: “Horse and Rider Thrown into the Sea”

by look i have opinions

“Horse and Rider Thrown into the Sea,” by James Zwerneman

From One Story #153 (buy it here—issues are pocket-sized and reasonably priced)

Around 7800 words*

I wasn’t really satisfied with the ending of this story, for the same reason most literary endings dissatisfy me. The final section ends with the major characters and their dinner guests all huddled together under mosquito netting, singing a hymn while they wait for a swarm of wood ants to subside. It’s a lovely, warm scene, but it doesn’t resolve the main conflict in the story, Winifred’s struggle to keep her son Jeremiah on the right path—all we get is a blink-and-you-miss-it hint that he understands how much she’s done for him and that he’ll be okay, though his best friend is another matter. (And I suspect I’m reading too much into a few lines, to be honest.) Ending on a note of stoic optimism is appropriate for Winifred, but I wanted plot resolution too. Likewise, the same section has Winifred gently shutting the door on a hopeful suitor—a poignant moment, but not a new development. She’s been refusing him throughout the story, though she’s fond of him, because she knows he’s not responsible enough for her (and though she never says it explicitly, he’s not responsible enough to be her boy’s stepfather).

All that makes it sound like I didn’t like the story. Actually I just wish it went on a few pages longer and offered more answers. The voice is really strong, a pleasure to read line by line. The dialogue has a colloquial poetry to it that never sacrifices clarity.

Possible nitpick: Are there really dialects of English where you can hear the difference between “could have” and “could of”? When I see “could of” on the page, I wonder why the writer has to hammer it home that this is a nonstandard dialect. Then again, I have to admit that now that I’m getting used to seeing “could of,” “could have” would stand out to me as formal.

*One Story prints 29 lines to a page, averaging about 10 words a line on the page I sampled, etc.