For a new series of posts, we’re asking our editors to choose a recent story, essay, or poem they’d selected for publication and tell us how it won them over. Here, our 2010-2011 fiction editor, Bryan Castille, recalls his discovery of Bradley Bazzle’s “Magellan,” which appears in the Winter 2011 issue.
It was the end of a very long day of reading fiction manuscripts. The sun had long set, and my head ached from hours of straining my eyes. My contact lenses had fused themselves to my corneas. I was about to log out of my computer when I saw another unopened envelope. (Envelopes tended to inexplicably repopulate my desk when I was ready to go home.) Rather than toss it back into the slush pile for another day, I opened it, thinking, “I’ll just read the first page. If it’s good, I’ll take it home. If it’s not so good, I’ll leave it for tomorrow.”
The story, titled “Magellan,” which I expected to be some kind of metaphor, the meaning of which I might not discover until the very end of a long and maddening experiment, if at all, began, “By the end we were starving.” By the third sentence, I realized that I was reading a story about the real Magellan, a man whom, aside from his name and maritime trajectory, I knew nothing about. I kept reading, and soon I realized that it did not matter much to me whether some, none, or all of the story was historically inaccurate. The phony translator, the persecuted Jew, the perverse, anti-Semitic Magellan, and even the sexualized turkeys fascinated me like a fairy tale at five. Something new under the sun.
Within the hour I had finished. I called Russell Valentino, our editor, and told him I had something good. He picked up the manuscript and shortly brought it back (I was still in the office, for some reason). He was short of breath. “Let’s take it,” he said. And we wondered whether there may have ever been a Jew aboard the Trinidad, and what a fascinating idea it was, regardless.
What Bazzle has written is a collision of history and fiction, but I would not dare call it historical fiction. It is more enchanting than that. I have just now reread it, and again I am struck by the feeling of having read an entire novel, and I am laughing at its audacity. A delightful, alchemical mixture of realism and complete bullshit, “Magellan” is the most thrilling story I read the entire year.