Style and Technique

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

The structure of “One of a Kind” is fairly complex for such a short story. A first-person narrator relates to the reader two stories: the story of his own meetings and conversations with Marian Tiriac and the story of Nicolai Petrescu as told to him by Tiriac—essentially a frame within a frame. The effect is that the story of Petrescu is removed from the reader by two layers of representation—a structural reminder that history is not fact; rather, it is a compendium of representations and perceptions filtered through multiple and successive lenses.

The narrator establishes a conversational tone with the reader by framing the story as a recollection and using the second person in the first paragraph. By giving the story the feel of a spoken narrative, the author further undermines the factualness of history, suggesting that this story, the printed story, is just as unreliable and mutable as the oral narrative of Marian Tiriac. Through multiple oral reiterations, historical actuality becomes a fictive history.

The conversational tone of the story is reinforced by long sections of uninterrupted, one-sided dialogue. A third of the text consists of Tiriac’s monologue as he relates to the narrator the story of Nicolai Petrescu. Tiriac’s telling is not presented as paraphrase; rather, it is enclosed in quotation marks. The language of the text is straightforward, eschewing the use of metaphoric or symbolic language. Again, this places the story in the conversational rather than literary realm.

Interestingly, as the story ends, Barnes does not resolve several contradictory elements: Tiriac’s tale of Petrescu and his vow to never write another word, what Tiriac heard from his mother about the great success of The Wedding Cake, what the narrator sees in the shop window in Bucharest, and the six or seven other titles by Petrescu that the narrator told Tiriac he had seen in the shop window, which are not mentioned when the narrator is actually standing at the shop window (he in fact makes a point of saying that only a single book is displayed). These conflicting stories are left for the reader to ponder and to wonder where the truth is in all of this and whether there are multiple truths and multiple histories.