Matthew Simmons’s Favorite Novellas

Eleven favorite novellas, in no particular order. (Sorry. I couldn’t decide what to drop.)

Enchanted Night, by Steven Millhauser
The best of Millhauser’s novellas. (Which is saying something, as Millhauser is the form’s most dedicated contemporary practitioner.) Lots of little stories, linked together by the same location in time and space, becoming a single one through accretion.

The Suffering Channel, by David Foster Wallace
One of the best examples of a story told through misdirection I’ve ever read. Over and over, you think you’ve gotten it, and Wallace has fooled you again.

EVER, by Blake Butler
Whatever the hell Butler is talking about, he sure does talk about it pretty.

Light Boxes, by Shane Jones & As a Friend, by Forrest Gander
Both of these books were published as novels. Both are short, though. And both could also be read as extended prose poems. Light Boxes is beautiful surrealist fable. As a Friend is a story about relationships compressed into really short, really excellent sentences. And it has lots of white space. Both suggest deeper narratives, but both get to what they are trying to get at without needing to be any longer.

Wild Child, by T.C. Boyle
The next three were all published by McSweeney’s. Good for them. I liked the novel Talk Talk well enough, but I like this—a book “written” by one of the novel’s characters and produced by Boyle as a supplement to the it—more.

The Former World Record Holder Settles Down, by Courtney Eldridge
This novella was the best thing about Unkempt, a book that had lots of other really good things about it. Eldridge does the wistful, world-weary first person narrator as well as it can be done.

This Shape We’re In, by Jonathan Lethem
A friend of mine once tried to come up with his own role-playing game. He asked me what he should use for the setting. I told him to have it take place inside the body of a decaying horse.

The Metamorphosis, by Franz Kafka
The best thing your high school English teacher ever forced you to read.

The Wages of Syntax, by Ray Vukcevich
While “literary fiction” struggles over what is and isn’t a novella, the sci-fi/fantasy crowd has standardized the whole thing for the Nebula Awards. Technically, this is a “novelette.” As I am not bound by the restrictions of the Nebula Awards, I’m calling this a novella. Ray Vukcevich is one of my favorite writers. I used to have an impulse to do something in a story, and feel like maybe I shouldn’t follow the impulse if I wanted to be taken seriously. Then I read Meet Me in the Moon Room, and realized all bets are off.

Miss Lonelyhearts, by Nathaniel West
I love this book so much, I don’t have a single thing to say about it.

Matthew Simmons is the interviews editor at Hobart. He is The Man Who Couldn’t Blog. He is the publisher/editor/designer at Happy Cobra Books. He “sings” and “plays guitar” and “does other stuff” in the band Fire in My Bag. He’s writing a book of short stories called Happy Rock. He lives in Seattle.

One response to “Matthew Simmons’s Favorite Novellas

  1. Matthew- great great list. I would pick “Revenge” by Millhauser, I think. I loved Wild Child. Loved it. And Kafka and West…such good things.

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