A Better Angel
Farrar, Straus & Giroux
“The Sum of Our Parts”
“The Sum of Our Parts” appears in Chris Adrian’s collection A BETTER ANGEL (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2008). The story first appeared in Ploughshares where it won the Cohen Award, which honors the best short story published in the journal that year. Adrian has published stories in The New Yorker, Story, The Paris Review, Zoetrope, and The Best American Short Stories 1998. His novel The Great Night was published earlier this year.
Adrian has said this about the story: “It’s based, more or less (but certainly less than more), on my experience working in a pathology lab very much like the one described in the story. I was walking down to the neonatal ICU one night, on my way to draw blood from an infant, when a stray and apparently sourceless groan came wafting down the hall. Early the next morning (I worked the nightshift), I happened to see a little girl practicing at a piano in the atrium. The groan and the girl stayed with me in a way that was sort of horrible, and in order to be rid of them, I started a story which gradually drew upon other elements of the nightshift lab experience-receiving brains in Tupperware bowls, gossiping about a patient who leaped off the top of a parking garage, drawing and analyzing our own blood just for fun. Over successive drafts, a female ghost snuck in, replacing the sentient blood-analyzing machine, and commandeered the narrative, and the story came more and more to be hers.
“The final story bore about as much resemblance to the real experience of working in the lab as Batman does to a bat. In real life, there were no ghosts, no multiple transplants, no overheated love polygons. It’s full of medical inaccuracies. But I hope the story reflects some of the terrible strangeness of the hospital, how it seemed not unreasonable, at three a.m., that a dissatisfied, ambivalent ghost might be wandering the halls, visiting friends who didn’t know her and looking for a way out of life.” (Ploughshares, 1998).