2009: EVER, by Blake Butler
This encompasses the ideal of novella: single setting, single character, single desire. A woman wants little else but to be outside of herself, but the possibility? The light won’t shine on that.
2006: The Session, by Aaron Petrovich
The rare cross-breed of drama and fiction, this novella is purely dialogue. Two madmen (perhaps the same man? and then a third?) attempt to uncover the mysterious death of a deranged mathematician. But who’s deranged? What happened when everything exploded?
1992: Jesus’ Son, by Denis Johnson
Technically, not a novella, more of a story cycle. But some have even called it a novel in stories. Anyway, there’s a singular point of view, our anti-hero/narrator who makes matters worse, except for himself—eventually. This is, perhaps, the single most influential book on my own writing, or at least on some of my writing.
1985: The Bathroom, by Jean Philippe Toussaint
A man insanely intrigued with his bathroom eventually leaves for Venice, only to miss his girlfriend, who comes to visit him, until he throws a dart into her forehead. Afterwards, he befriends his doctor who serves him kidneys, before our hero goes back to Paris, only to re-inhabit his bathroom. Brilliant.
1961: No One Writes to the Colonel, by Gabriel Garcia Marquez
If you don’t, or didn’t, like magic realism, you’re an idiot.
1961: Dawn, by Elie Wiesel
Desperation: Jews and Nazis. Closing lines: “The tattered fragment of darkness had a face . . .The face was my own.” Fuck.
1960: Tristessa, by Jack Kerouac
Kerouac in the height of alcoholic incoherence: no sentences, fuck articles. Blow baby, like a horn. Watch Jack tail around Mexico City with a morphine addict. No NY editors touched this one, so it’s pure JK, which, take it or leave it, is a good thing for what it offers.
1949: Shane, by Jack Schaefer
I love westerns. Sorry. I do. Give me PBR and Spaghetti Westerns and make me a happy redneck. Fuck you, by the way.
1937: Of Mice and Men, by John Steinbeck
I have to mention Steinbeck, another major influence, since we’re both from the Salinas Valley of California. If it weren’t for him, I wouldn’t be a writer at all. I can never read this book without crying, which is more of a testament to my sentimentalism than anything. JS has another, very unknown, novella called The Moon is Down, set in WWII Europe, and written for the US Government as propaganda. It’s worth the read.
1915: The Metamorphosis, by Franz Kafka
Well, there’s just no getting around this; you have to mention it in any discussion of the novella, pretty much no matter what. It kicks ass, too. My favorite part is when Gregor’s father chucks the apple and lodges it in Gregor’s back.
1891: Wynema, by S. Alice Callahan
The first extensive piece of writing by a Native American woman, it is both Indian and Southern. This—of course—provides the sorely lacking female’s point of view on the Caucasian-American takeover of Native lands.
1853, 1855: Bartleby, the Scrivener: A Story of Wall Street and Benito Cereno, by Herman Melville
I prefer not to say anything about either of these.
2500 BCE The Epic of Gilgamesh
Again, technically not a novella, but an epic poem. But, of the English translations we have today—the most authoritative of these, that is—this is given to us in prose. In terms of the story’s fragmentation (due only, of course, to the missing pieces, lost over time), amazingly early sense of plot, this is more novella-esque than epic. This is especially true when compared to the Iliad and Odyssey. Oh, Enkidu!
Jamie Iredell lives in Atlanta where he works as designer for C&R Press. He is a founding editor of New South. His writing has appeared–or will–in many journals, including elimae, The Chattahoochee Review, Storyscape, The Literary Review, SUB-LIT, Descant, Lamination Colony, and others. His book, When I Moved to Nevada, is forthcoming from The Greying Ghost Press. Find him HERE.