One Story Issue #258: Becky Mandelbaum’s “Say Uncle”

Our new issue was edited by the great Will Allison. Here’s his introduction. -PR

The first time I read “Say Uncle,” I was touched by the sweetness of the love story Becky Mandelbaum tells. Normally, as a reader, that’s exactly what I hope for: to be moved. In this case, though, I also felt a little dirty, because the so-called love story in question involves Dan, an unemployed thirty-something, and Hollie, a fifteen-year-old schoolgirl. Clearly, the relationship is all wrong. So how could I feel sympathy for a pedophile? How could I sort of even like the guy?

Of course, this is what good fiction does. It challenges us by allowing us to inhabit viewpoints that are radically different from our own. It’s easy to be repelled by the idea of Dan and Hollie together; it’s harder to dismiss Dan’s humanity once you’ve spent time in his shoes. And so “Say Uncle” engages in a daring high-wire act, creating sympathy for Dan while also not letting him off the hook.

I wasn’t surprised to encounter this rich complexity in a story by Becky Mandelbaum. Her collection, Bad Kansas, which received the 2016 Flannery O’Connor Award for Short Fiction, is full of stories that are as lively and hilarious as they are challenging and unsettling. Here at One Story, we are thrilled to be sharing her work with you.

This story contains scenes of child sexual abuse. We encourage you to read our Q&A with the author, in which Mandelbaum addresses her reasons for investigating the topic and how she approached this taboo subject matter.

5 thoughts on “One Story Issue #258: Becky Mandelbaum’s “Say Uncle”

  1. One Story,
    Congratulations on Becky Mandelbaum’s “Say Uncle”. Hands down one of the best stories you’ve published. Great writing: great characters and language. There’s an uncomfortable ambivalence in the story that really keeps it staying with me long after I’ve read it. I will definitely be reading her novel mentioned in her bio. Thanks for the introduction!

  2. Hi Howard,
    Thanks for your kind words and for taking the time to post.
    Will Allison

  3. Excellent story. One I will not soon forget. Terrific work by Mandlebaum to create a complex character and slowly reveal more about him and his story in a skillful way to pique interest and create conflicting emotions. I found Say Uncle funny, cringe worthy, and entertaining. I am a relatively new subscriber to One Story and while I have enjoyed every story that I’ve read thus far this is the first one that has moved me to post a comment. Kudos to Mandlebaum and One Story for selecting it.

  4. Hi, Duane. We’re so glad you enjoyed Becky Mandelbaum’s “Say Uncle.” Thanks for taking the time to share your thoughts, and happy holidays!

  5. Where should I start with this one? Mixed feelings all of the way for the main character. One on hand, he’s a bad person. On the other hand, he’s trying to find happiness in his life, the only way he seems to know how.

    Do I cheer for him or do I boo him? Say Uncle left a gap for me.

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