“Sisters of Mercy” by Joan Leegant
I’ve presented the short-short story “Sisters of Mercy” in the literature and medicine seminars I facilitate at three hospitals in New Jersey, and twice more in demonstrating for medical organizations how the literature and medicine program works. Each time the story provoked a well of responses. In “Sisters of Mercy,” Joan Leegant depicts, in an astonishingly brief page and a half, gender and class at work in the theatre of a Boston operating room, while focusing the plot on medical error. I admire the story enormously. I admire it for these themes but also for its technical skill. The narrator’s voice seems singular, but the point of view is actually the unusual collective “we,” so Leegant captures an individual and the communal at once. It’s as concise as a poem. It’s moving. And the character – this shrewd, veteran nurse – is as vivid in my mind’s eye as if I’d known her all my life. And maybe I have. Read "Sisters of Mercy"
“White Space” by Amanda McCormick
By way of gliding around it, by way of never naming it outright, by way of the narrator’s numb shock, this story manages to capture the unspeakable, what seems impossible to articulate, the effect of the assault, on those of us in Manhattan, of September 11, 2001. It’s a truism that if you write well and concretely of one person’s experience, that will speak for the universal. Written in first person, Amanda McCormick succeeds in relating her narrator’s particular loss, her own accidental escape, and her slow groping towards regaining life in the aftermath so movingly and accurately that when I first read it, it took my breath away. Even now, re-reading it, it plunges me back to the collective shock of that day and so many days afterward, months. Even the title, “White Space,” connotes the heart’s core of that time. Empty. Blown away. A survivor’s emptiness, stunned lack. It’s interesting that the BLR has received few submissions touching on this trauma. But this one is sufficient: it is a masterpiece. Read "White Space"