Title: One Perfect Night
Author: Lisa Henry
Length: 8500 Words
At a Glance: One Perfect Night is one perfect short story.
Reviewed By: Lisa
Blurb: Townsville, Australia, 1943.
Tanner is a captain in the US Army, stationed at a radio post on an island in the middle of nowhere.
Nick is a coastwatcher, a man whose voice Tanner has only heard before over the radio waves.
They meet in the middle of war, when nothing is certain but this: Tanner and Nick are owed one perfect night.
Review: I get that there are a lot of reasons not to like short stories. Going by some I’ve read, I assume they aren’t easy to do well—too rushed, too vague, too cliché, too implausible, too superficial… Whatever. But let me tell you, right here and right now, Lisa Henry has blown every one of those reasons, and any others I might think of, to smithereens with One Perfect Night. This quiet and gorgeous story culminated in some of the most perfect minutes I’ve ever spent reading.
Set in the Pacific theater during World War II, One Perfect Night is a story of fate and futility. It’s the story of two men, Captain John Tanner, and a man Tanner knows only as Blue Sky Guy—until a stroke of good fortune brings them face-to-face. Blue Sky Guy is the disembodied voice that travels the radio airwaves, a civilian hero working behind enemy lines on the tiny island of Bougainville. He’s a coastwatcher, a volunteer tasked with keeping American troops apprised of the Japanese military’s movements.
When Tanner is in Townsville and happens to hear a voice, a voice he never hoped to attach to a face, let alone a name—Nick—Tanner wants for nothing more than to buy him a drink and spend a little time with Blue Sky Guy.
But then, a drink turns into so much more.
Point number one in this story’s favor—Henry doesn’t have to waste a lot of word count on drawing an emotional connection to the time and setting. We already know war is hell, and we can already intuit that the men and women who fought in WWII, some so far from home, would have grasped at every opportunity for normalcy in the midst of chaos and uncertainty. Some of that normalcy would have been found in simple human connection. One perfect night. One perfect, private, dangerous, forbidden, sweet night.
Because tomorrow isn’t guaranteed, and to speak of anything more is a fool’s wish.
This story takes place over a matter of hours. Not days. Not weeks. One. Perfect. Night. Just enough for me to hold on to the hope that Tanner and Nick couldn’t afford to hold on to for themselves—that their one perfect night might somehow become a future of perfectly average but no less beautiful nights together. Just enough for me to appreciate that this story is written in such an intimate and spare way. It’s not cluttered by extraneous detail, unnecessary characters, or grandiose action; it’s just Tanner and Nick, everything the story needs, a moment of peace in the midst of war, two men who might not have a single thing in common other than their need for a brief and beautiful moment of communion.
I know I’m never going to convince you to read a book by begging you. Time is time, money is money, and an opinion isn’t the gospel truth. It’s an opinion. If I were going to try, though, this would be the one. It’s heartbreaking and gut-wrenching and wonderful, it wrecked me a little, and it’s everything a short story should be.
You can buy One Perfect Night here: