Sean Lovelace’s Favorite Novellas

Less Shiny, by Mary Miller
They say there are only 75 copies of this book, so if you want one, send me ten thousand American dollars and a brick of cocaine. These characters drink and smoke and fuck and drink some more. They are all named Meursault, if you catch my marijuana drift. Nihilism to the mattress stain/shapeless void of the low hotel, greasy TV porn, the stench of magnolias and spilt beer and the hot night. Some will say this is in fact not a novella, but screw them and their facts.

Heart of Darkness, by Joseph Conrad
You will need a machete. The prose is vintage, year 1902, all viney and tangle and sentences suffocating like anacondas: “the impenetrable intangible progress of instability…” Uh whatever. Prepare for terror and murder and human skulls as lawn decorations. Hey Plato, Darwin, and Engels—shove it up your assumptions-of-universal-order ass. Man’s heart is inherently evil, chaos and entropy reigns, or as my students gasp when they first see this novella upon the syllabi pages: “The horror, the horror.” I make it up to them later by showing Apocalypse Now for three straight classes.

The Blue Guide to Indiana, by Michael Martone
Martone was sued over this book. How cool is that? The parties settled out of court so you will find a garish white sticker on the cover with stupid-ass big lawyer language claiming this book is not the Blue Guide to Indiana, etc. Do you need information on Eli Lily Land, Indiana rickshaw drivers, or a PhD in tourism from Indiana University? This is the book for you. I live in Indiana and just saw an orange blue jay out the window.

First Love, by Ivan Turgenev
A teen trying to hook up with a hot Russian princess—word! This is Russia so things will end badly, but at least no one throws themselves in front of a train. Turgenev is overshadowed by the Big Boys of Russian literature, but the man can write a sentence to rip out your spleen. A truly touching story. If you drink while reading this novella, you will cry and consider your own relationships to be pale and thin and meaningless as old yellowed tissue in the corner of a mausoleum. You don’t really know love do you? You might just leave your partner, finally. Black bread is a good bread.

Wood-Core Series Storm Door 230-SC, by Larson
I found this novella in a kitchen drawer, next to a corkscrew, a stapler, and a wad of rubber bands and glue boogers. The people we bought the house from left drawers stuffed with all types of literature. This was a particularly fascinating read, and was also translated into Spanish. I especially enjoyed BEFORE YOU GET STARTED and the conflict-charged chapter titled TROUBLESHOOTING. Warning for kids: Tons of screwing involved, especially in pages 3-7, INSTALLATION. In general, I admire any novella that includes screwing.

Bounty, by George Saunders
Only Harper’s magazine would publish a novella entire, as it did in 1995 with this strange and moving work by George Saunders. You can also find Bounty in the collection Civilwarland in Bad Decline. Saunders is a present day Dickens (though he writes nothing, nothing like Dickens on a sentence level [thank gods]), writing stories that, in Chekhov’s words, “open us to the possibility of tenderness.” In Bounty, a genetically flawed hero is chased through a dystopian America, a world of “mules toppling over or burning” and “floating paper boats in an offal stream” and “Earl in a poodle suit going woof woof woof.” It’s a fucked up story, but fucked up good.

Any novella by Andre Dubus (there are many):
I like to drink and run and make mistakes in my life, so these books make me feel less alone.

Liberty or Love, by Robert Desnos
Psilocybin sperm clunk tea kettle hat acid fluorescent bone fucking, fluorescent bone fucking. My brother dressed as sex. Eight cell religious orgy hunting season mushroom fuck. Surrealism Wisconsin-cold gingerly sides of fuck-dust cow. Cold white oyster boy. Girls three for a dollar. At the station someone left a snow. France.

Old Man and the Sea, by Ernest Hemingway
Who the fuck chooses this? What’s next, your favorite band is The Beatles? I want to officially say here I am sick of Hemingway bashers. Before you say a word, let’s see your own Nobel Prize and Cuban daiquiri record (he drank 16 doubles in one sitting). Dude had four wives, two plane crashes, and over 200 separate pieces of shrapnel lodged in his lower legs for life. Back off; grab a flask of absinthe and re-read Old Man and the Sea. By the way, the Beatles are overplayed, but cold beer is over-drunk and it never caused me no pause.

Black Water, by Joyce Carol Oates
Usually, I want to tell JCO to shut the hell up. Anyone who writes a novel a day is going to get under my skin. But I actually like this book, and it took cajones to write. If you are a Kennedy fan, you may want to avoid, since it basically tells the “story” of a senator and a young woman driving off a bridge together. Sound familiar? This novella was a scandalous bestseller in its time, and now simply sparkles for its language, pacing and immediacy (great car crash scene), and keen understanding of how one decision can lead us right to drowning, in all its concrete and abstract connotations.

Sean Lovelace is HERE. He publishes here, there, everywhere. He just won the 2009 Rose Metal Press Short Short Fiction Chapbook Contest. He likes beer and nachos and reading a river.

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