My essay “Call Me Fish-Owl: Reflecting on the Novella’s neither Fish nor Fowl Status” and the compendium “Those Little Monsters: Recommended Novellas” opened up a dialogue about the novella and about great fiction in general. Since the original post I invited a few other writers, editors, and publishers (Gary Amdahl, Andrew Borgstrom, John Domini, Conor Madigan, Kyle Minor, Ander Monson, Greg Gerke, Paul Kincaid, Deb Olin Unferth, Derek White, Dan Wickett, Andrew Zornoza, to weigh in with their own lists and comments. It’s resulted in new thoughts about some of the usual suspects, but also about many other books that made never made it on the original list.
In an email to me, Andrew Zornoza wrote a wonderful meditation on the novella:
The pleasure I get out of a short story arrives in that moment when the book is put down. The world changed ever so slightly, the mind spinning lazily like a bicycle tire before a thunderstorm (if one pictures, like I do, an abandoned bicycle propped up on a cinder block, the seat leaning against an old farmhouse). With a novel, the pleasure is in the entering not the exit. It is that moment of someone lifting you up and swinging you across a chasm—prolonged. It is a universe entire, apart from our own. The novella has neither, or both, of these characteristics. Its strength lies in anomaly.
The novella is the freest of forms because it chooses itself. An author does not set out to write a novella. The story says: I will end here, I am this way, now go find a publisher. . . .
Why? The short story confronts the end before it even begins: within a handful of pages it must gather its weight and then fall of its own accord into the spooling reel of the reader’s memory. The novelist flings any promise of an ending far into the future and it’s not until a certain body count—a certain mass—has been reached that the conclusion can be seen (though occasionally, like Christopher Priest’s towed city in “Inverted World,” the words are just hauled further and further toward a continually receding horizon—see Proust, Pynchon, Bolaño’s 2666, and other rectangular doorstops containing infinities). The novella unfolds past the point at which we can absorb in one sitting, but neither does it devour territory and clamor to live upon a nightstand. And the latter to me is the biggest distinction. A novella is a tattered manuscript; it is not born with the idea of being put between two pieces of heavy card-stock and plastered with photographs, advance praise, the author’s name and a twelve digit number from the Library of Congress. Neither its size nor brevity appeal to the publishing world; it answers to nothing but the fickle cult of the devoted reader. Perhaps that is why so many of those below [hyperlink to his list] are sadly difficult to acquire.
I crossed some genre lines with this list. But here I side with Christopher Higgs and define the novella as simply “a short book.” Length is not an arbitrary distinction, what we think of as fiction, philosophy, non-fiction, manifesto is so. . . .
Gary Amdahl recently had a conversation with Jim Ruland at Vermin on the Mount and their discussion of the novella seems to me worth quoting in full:
JR: I’m curious about the novella format. You can do more things in a novella than you can in a short story, but you get your resolution much faster than you would in a novel. They seem like an accidental medium and are viewed as short stories that went long or novels that ran out of steam. Do you agree? Did you set out to write novellas?
GA: Yes, I set out to write novellas. The misunderstanding of them (I agree with you, either stories that are too long or novels that aren’t long enough) is tragic, a vicious circle of categorization and commodification and uniformity of product that no longer makes sense to anybody but which we can’t break free of. I hear people talking about wanting to make an investment of time, I guess, and a minimal kind of attention, in a story when they buy a book, and the novella, I dunno, makes them feel like they’re not getting full value on their entertainment dollar. It’s horrifying and stupid. Imagine a gang of Russian financial wizards (bright boy bankers and slavically suicidal hedge funders, with “an interest in the arts,” telling Tolstoy that The Death of Ivan Illych is, at 40-45 pp., neither fish nor fowl and therefore unpublishable: pad it, Leo old man, or gut it—all stories can benefit from cutting, da? Or the learned playboys who sold out to the world media congloms (exception: the late great James Laughlin and New Directions) straightening Saul Bellow’s lapels, “Saulie, Seize the Day looks so…I dunno, slender propped up next to Augie March, I mean, come on, fella, you see what we’re saying…we want a man’s book. Novellas are for women’s magazines.” And anyone suggesting Joyce’s The Dead is too long or too short ought to be sentenced to live without that masterpiece for ten years. It’s all categorizing (a means of escaping the thing itself by naming it) and marketing (“Readers don’t want to buy novellas, sorry.” WELL WHY THE FUCK WOULD PEOPLE DRAW THE LINE THERE??? “I don’t care how good it is, seventy-five pages leaves me feeling uneasy….”
JR: For a while, it seemed like novellas anchored short story collections either to give the collection more gravitas or to showcase the writer’s potential as a novelist. What is the role of the novella? Does it have a future?
GA: Hard to say what has a future in the book biz. I mean, maybe even books don’t have a future in the book biz. But I gotta believe there are cycles and swings of the pendulum like everywhere else. Stories will be judged as either good or bad or somewhere in between, not as fictitious or non-fictitious, as a novel or a novella, as true or false. Actually: the distinction will be made, must be made, between true and false, just not along the lines of the current “fake memoir” scandals. There are truthful novels and fraudulent memoirs. Bullshit is bullshit. Tastes will change and markets will follow or vice versa, or they won’t. Maybe we’ve got decades of suffering ahead. I luckily consider myself primarily a reader, a reader of old and forgotten books, so unless they are burned or quarantined, I’ll be okay. As a reader. As a writer…? Murky period ahead of x-rated infantilism. I will have to create a new marketing niche, “Old Adult,” or just go all Emily Dickinson on everybody.
As I finish writing this I’m listening to Heartless Bastards and Erika Wennerstrom just said “stagnancy makes me drown and I really want to live,” and it is in that spirit that I offer you this addendum. Below you’ll find new lists and comments by Gary Amdahl, Andrew Borgstrom, John Domini, Conor Madigan, Kyle Minor, Ander Monson, Greg Gerke, Paul Kincaid, Deb Olin Unferth, Derek White, Dan Wickett, and Andrew Zornoza that will offer some more books filled with words that rise against the tide of stagnancy.
So please enjoy some more fine novella lists and commentary. And be sure to let us know what you think. And check out Those Little Monsters: Recommended Novellas (Updated). The list has about 500 titles on it. Time to get to work!
Anton Chekhov: A Dreary Story, Ward No. Six, My Life, In the Ravine, Peasants, The Duel, The Steppe, and a half-dozen other of his longer stories.
In his shorter masterpieces, like Rothschild’s Fiddle and Gusev, the isolated main characters are nearly incapable of articulation; they blurt or mumble their woe and confusion, they can say no more, they die. In the longer stories, Chekhov tends to take a community as his subject: if a character is mute with pain or just stupid and mean, other characters, in effect, do the talking. Nearly all of Chekhov’s work is nearly perfect: I simply find myself wishing the shorter ones weren’t ending as soon as they do.
Samuel Beckett: The Lost Ones and How It Is. Beckett is the other indispensable writer in my library—only he and Chekhov can penetrate despair. His work is also ideal for any discussion of flexibility (or uselessness) in literary categorization: the monologues are novels and the novels monologues. Time is relative in Beckett’s fictional worlds, and so is the reader’s experience of their duration. How It Is takes twice the pages The Lost Ones does, but they are both read in “no-time.” I also saw David Warrilow perform The Lost Ones: he was in a tiny, tented space in a warehouse in Minneapolis, naked, and playing with tiny human figures in a tiny cylinder (which is the setting of the piece, where the lost ones live). We in the audience were given tiny telescopes to help us see what was going on as Warrilow recited the novella.
John Hawkes: Travesty, The Owl, The Goose on the Grave
The latter two novellas are almost the first fictions Hawkes wrote (in the 40s, published in 1954), when he characterized his work as “exclamations of psychic materials” and considered plot, theme, character, and structure to be his “enemies.” Travesty, one of his masterpieces, comes at the end of his most popular phase (1976), finds him reconciled amicably and inspired by Camus’ last great work, the novella/monologue The Fall. It is set entirely within an elegant sportscar careening at top speed along a road in the south of France. The driver, known only as “the man of privilege” intends to drive into a brick wall, and thereby kill himself and the car’s two other occupants: his daughter and his best friend, who has slept not only with the daughter but the privileged man’s wife.
J. M. Coetzee: The Vietnam Project and The Narrative of Jacobus Coetzee
The Cold Genius (see Dryden’s libretto for Purcell’s opera King Arthur for details) has always been a cold genius, even in his first two works, novellas collected under the title Dusklands. And he has always had an attitude toward identity and meta-identity as playful as any (awful word) postmodern prankster. In the first story (written in 1972, published in south Africa in 1974 but not here until, believe it or not, 1985), “Eugene Dawn” is a propagandist for the U.S. military, working for a manager named “Coetzee” on something called “New Life for Vietnam.” Icy and in the grip of his brilliance as usual, Coetzee’s Dawn has here something like a sense of humor. His description of unsatisfactory sex with his wife: “The fault is not mine. I do my duty. Whereas I cannot escape the suspicion that my wife is disengaged. Before the arrival of my seed her pouch yawns and falls back, leaving my betrayed representative gripped at its base, flailing its head in vain inside an immense cavern, at the very moment when above all else it craves to be rocked through its tantrum in soft, firm, infinitely trustworthy grip.”
Halldór Laxness: Iceland’s Bell, The Fair Maiden, and A Fire in Copenhagen, three interrelated novellas collected as a novel under the title Iceland’s Bell. These stories and Independent People are two of the greatest works of fiction in the 20th century. Laxness brought the protean Old Norse sagas into the cave-dwelling poverty and colonial oppression of medieval Iceland (which lasted until the first world war, and maybe on its way back). The first novella moves around the search by Danish aristocrats for fragments of the original saga manuscripts, and a jolly thief who is tortured for making a joke about the Danish King. The second is as hard and true a story of alcoholism as you will ever find: no lusty Vikings drinking mead and chortling as they cleave each other’s heads in twain. The third is the story of a devastating fire that threatens the Royal Danish Library.
Cesare Pavese: The House on the Hill and The Devil in the Hills. Pavese, who killed himself after he won Italy’s biggest literary prize (for Among Women Only, which Antonioni made into the film Le Amiche) wrote nine very short novels (all but one or two, I think, are really novellas), a handful of stories, a book of superb poetry, and an unclassifiable work called Dialogues with Leucò. He was a translator of several English and American modernists, and wrote his thesis on Walt Whitman. The flavors of Whitman and Faulkner are evident in Pavese, but he is thoroughly his own man: lucid, textured, hot but placid, a kind of terse plain Italian that manages to evoke everything garrulous, lush, ancient, and beautiful about that country and language.
The Dead, by James Joyce; The Death of Ivan Illych, Leo Tolstoy; Seize the Day, Saul Bellow; The Secret Sharer, Heart of Darkness, The Shadow Line, Typhoon, The Nigger of the ‘Narcissus, by Joseph Conrad.
Gary Amdahl is the author of Visigoth and is the recipient of a Jerome Fellowship and a Pushcart Prize. His work has appeared in Santa Monica Review, Fiction, Gettysburg Review, and The Quarterly. Amdahl has worked as a janitor, has reviewed books for the New York Times and the Nation, and was most recently an employee at Dutton’s Brentwood Bookstore in Southern California.
Ten Novellas and Where I Read Them
In chronological order:
The Song of Percival Peacock, by Russell Edson
I read Edson’s novella on a chair in a hotel room with a view of the parking structure.
Dark Property, by Brian Evenson
I read Evenson’s novella in the basement of a Utah dentist office.
Electric Flesh, by Claro
I read Claro’s novella while teaching developmental English and living in an abandoned sewing room with two other people.
Red Haze, by Christian Gailly
I read Gailly’s novella during a forced motel stay caused by unprecedented snowfall.
Jetlag: Five Graphic Novellas, by Etgar Keret and Actus Comics
I read Keret’s novellas on the last ferry of the evening, which doesn’t allow smoking.
In Watermelon Sugar, by Richard Brautigan
I read Brautigan’s novella on a deck near an island with a nearby radio blaring theological sermons.
Ever, by Blake Butler
I read Butler’s novella in a three-level house or a three-piece suit.
Light Boxes, by Shane Jones
I read Jones’s novella in a basement glider bought for a woman who refused having a child before owning a glider.
Europeana, by Patrik Ourednik
I read Ourednik’s novella in the passenger seat of a vehicle purchased by a man who offered his niece one million dollars to have sex with him.
The Session, by Aaron Petrovich
I read Petrovich’s novella in a room filled with three families watching animated robots.
Andrew Borgstrom is the author of the chapbooks “Reflected Off the Occasional Bone” (Publishing Genius, 2009) and “A State of Unbelief and Hawthorn Blossoms” (Pear Noir!,2010). He is a web editor for Pindeldyboz and can be found HERE.
All due respect—as they say in The Sopranos, another portmanteau middle-form, not a movie yet by no means a mere TV series. I mean, your list deserves respect, no question, as it is. Still, I’ve got to make a few adjustments & adds.
So, first my adds:
Malone Dies, by Samuel Beckett. This is the novella in his groundsbreaking trilogy, not the brilliant novel Molloy. The latter even describes an odyssey, novelistic. Malone Dies presents the best distillation of formal challenges & his dark hilarity.
And Donald Barthelme, & an essential one: “A Manual for Sons” from The Dead Father. Barthelme at or near his artistic height, disturbing, funny, multi-vocal—w/ every phrase, as ever, perfectly turned.
Then there’s both “Yellow Mud Street” & “Old Floating Cloud,” the two halves of the book Old Floating Cloud, by under-appreciated Chinese woman w/ some Kafka in her veins, name of Can Xue. Both are spacey, grotesque, satisfying; Robert Coover, for one, is a big fan.
Another Vladimir Nabokov as deserving as any other item here, namely, that exquisite nightmare of May-December love, Laughter in the Dark.
“The Pension Grillparzer” by John Irving. This man’s too rich & mainstream for this list, no doubt, but in fact this insert in World According to Garp, first published separately in a good quarterly & an anthology, is a finely-wrought elegy, w/ a novella’s restraint & focus.
Cheri, by Colette. This woman was a natural, & cold-eyed in the best sense about the surges & disappointments of love. The follow-up, The Last of Cheri, isn’t bad either.
African Psycho, by Alain Mabanckou
Shocking & joshing & altogether winning, post-modernism à la sub-Saharan Africa.
House of Mist, by Maria Luisa Bombal
The best & most unsettling social portrait by a Chilean contemporary of Borges, unfortunately little-known.
Then—Gilbert Sorrentino? Where on earth is this master of short, stinging, pseudo-novels? Splendide-Hotel, from 1973, is a better alphabet-book than Abish’s Africa, & by any fair standard a true novella. Plus we’ve got to include two scabrous, wild, & heart-wrenching things from the end of his career: Lunar Follies from ’05 & A Strange Commonplace from ’06.
Regarding Chimera, by John Barth.
This got just one vote, from the esteemed M. Martone, & I’ve got to add another. Barth’s three linked novellas from’72, in winning the Nat’l Book Award, brought the form renewed serious attention, in London & New York at least. More than that, in the speed, wit, sharp corners, & stylistic verve of “Dunyazadiad,” the best of these three, we are reminded—Barth has mad skills.
The Conventional Wisdom, the opening novella in The Living End, by Stanley Elkin, deserves special mention. Again, I want to add my support to Martone’s, & to single out the greatest canticle in Elkin’s wry revision of Dante’s Divine Comedy.
Anjou Flying Streamers After, more or less the climax of Carole Maso’s breathtaking AUREOLE. It’s this piece of the book, not the entire collection, that’s a novella.
Regarding Toni Morrison, surely Sula is her novella—& likely her greatest work, to boot—not the longer & more diffuse Bluest Eye.
Regarding Rick Moody, surely his knockout at the middle length is The Albertine Notes, his post-apocalyptic fantasia on New York, from Right Livelihoods.
Regarding Philip Roth, the novella that most deserves wide reading & hosannas is The Prague Orgy, a marvelous disquieting add-on to his set Zuckerman Bound.
Meanwhile, forgive me—but a night’s sleep has afforded me two more adds:
The Overcoat, by Nicolai Gogol
The form finds its essential hapless schlub, in Gogol’s copyist, & in so doing leeches a bloated class system.
Bech Panics, from Bech: A Book, by John Updike
Bech stands as perhaps the liveliest creation, for the late New Yorker steadfast, & here the man endures a marvelous religio-sexual purging, the sort of thing that was Updike’s métier, & rendered w/ novella-weight.
John Domini has won awards in all genres, publishing fiction in Paris Review, Ploughshares, and anthologies, and non-fiction in GQ, The New York Times, and elsewhere, including Italian journals. His latest novel is either A Tomb on the Periphery, in this country, or, over in Italy, Terremoto Napoleatano. Red Hen Press will soon publish a selection of his essays and reviews, The Sea-God’s Herb. Find him HERE.
Company, by Samuel Beckett
No symbols where none intended.
And Our Faces, My Heart, Brief as Photos, by John Berger
Not described as a novella, but what else could it be? It’s a meditation on life and art, with poetry and flash fiction mixed in. It’s all aimed at understanding. With set pieces on Caravaggio and Vermeer and listening to children playing the piano.
Breasts, by Stuart Dybek
Part of his I Sailed with Magellan book, but it stands alone as well. A bar story that becomes mixed up with a gangster and a Mexican wrestler. The murder inside surely is one of the best in American Literature, on par with the shower scene in Psycho.
Train Dreams, by Denis Johnson
The story spans years and gives a wonderful portrait of the mostly untamed West around Idaho. I’m surprised he hasn’t put this in a collection.
The Dead, by James Joyce
Microsoft Word grammar check doesn’t like reflexive pronouns. ‘He had never felt like that himself towards any woman but he knew that such a feeling must be love.’ I hate it when that happens. It seems we’ve all been rewriting this story for the last one-hundred years. Sometimes living it.
Bartleby, the Scrivener, by Herman Melville
This one is almost invincible. Before Dali and David Lynch there was this. Good old Nippers, Turkey and Ginger Nuts.
Carried Away, by Alice Munro
From the epistolary start to the magical ending, this one hums along, mounting in humor and delight. Remember the scene in Fanny and Alexander where the Jewish man makes the children disappear and escape the awful priest? Munro pulls off something like this in the last pages.
The Albanian Virgin, by Alice Munro
One Sunday potluck my friend started telling me about this story in Open Secrets called ‘The Albanian Virgin’ – how it starts off in third person about this woman in Albania and then totally switches gears and goes to a hospital room years later where the ‘I’ narrator comes in and tells the reader this is where she heard the story.
This much I could tell by my friend’s recounting. Everything else that he described I couldn’t follow at all. But the enthusiasm in which he told me, the sheer excitement in which he rattled off plot line after plot line for ten minutes was enough. I thought, “Jesus, why would someone talk about a story for fifteen minutes straight?” Reading it answered my question. My writing life, but more importantly my quotidian life, has never been the same.
Crystal River, by Charlie Smith
Two bisexual rednecks on a canoe trip find and take in (or get taken by) a gun-wielding femme fatale. Good story to work out any sexual hang-ups you might have.
Miss Lonelyhearts, by Nathanial West
West was killed in a car accident the day after ‘friend’ F. Scott Fitzgerald died of a heart attack. Said to be grieving and missed a stop sign. Would West have laughed knowing he went the same way as Daisy? Book is so funny it hurts.
Greg Gerke currently lives in Buffalo. His work has or will appear in Rosebud, Fourteen Hills, Pedestal Magazine, Pindeldyboz and others. Soon he will publish a book of short fiction with Blaze Vox Books. Find him HERE.
I said of my first list that I could create a second totally different list that was every bit as good as the first, so here it is:
Heart of Darkness, by Joseph Conrad
Yes, I know it’s not science fiction, but it’s influence on the science fiction of the 20th century, particularly British sf, is incalculable, and it is almost impossible to imagine J.G. Ballard without the influence of Conrad.
Another World, by J.-H. Rosny aîné
A curious 19th century French tale in which we discover a world that exists alongside our own, but which interacts with our world in no way whatsoever. I find the ideas of this novella incredibly powerful, though it seems to have been all but forgotten.
Flowers for Algernon, by Daniel Keyes
The pursuit of the scientific idea is remorseless, the result is tragic. I don’t know of another work of science fiction that has such an emotional effect on me.
A Rose for Ecclesiastes, by Roger Zelazny
Between the early 50s and the late 60s a lot of sf explored the relationship between art and science; this story about a poet’s response to Mars is one of the best.
Babel 17, by Samuel R. Delany
It was my discovery of Delany’s work that more or less convinced me that science fiction was where I wanted to be, and this short novel about the power of language shows why.
Houston, Houston, Do You Read? by James Tiptree Jr.
For a time, in the late-60s to early-70s, Tiptree (pen-name of Alice B. Sheldon) was the most powerful, innovative and effective writer in sf, bar none, and this story of three male astronauts returning to an Earth where men no longer exist illustrates precisely how she could undermine all our gender preconceptions.
Great Work of Time, by John Crowley
Nothing messes with the mind as much as a well-constructed time travel story, and this is the best.
A Boy and his Dog, by Harlan Ellison
Ellison can be infuriating, but when he’s on song, as he is in this tale of a devastated post-apocalyptic America, his work can be astonishing.
Seventy-Two Letters, by Ted Chiang
In my original list I had to choose between this and Stories of your Life by Chiang
It was a toss of a coin decision that could as easily have been made in favour of this ingenious story of Victorian golems.
The Wizard of West Orange, by Steven Millhauser
This story of a device for recording touch from his latest collection will have to stand for just about everything by Millhauser, currently the pre-eminent American writer of the fantastic.
Paul Kincaid is the recipient of the SFRA’s Thomas D. Clareson Award for Distinguished Service for 2006. His collection of essays and reviews, What it is we do when we read science fiction is published by Beccon Publications. Find him HERE.
Cannery Row, by John Steinbeck
This story and a few others prompted me to begin a novel. I’d read some Steinbeck in school, but never had time to appreciate his sentences. Cannery Row allows one to consider Steinbeck’s sentence as texture and voice for landscapes.
River Notes, by Barry Lopez
Lots of people describe Lopez’s work as masterfully joining land and our human experience with it—sure, he most obviously does this well, but his control of voice astounds.
Daisy Miller, by Henry James
“Mysterious Italians.” Goddamn wonderful masterpiece. I’m glad I haven’t read more of his work because right at this point in my early life this brief anchor holds me.
In the Penal Colony, by Franz Kafka
The Third Man, by Graham Greene
Conor Madigan writes short fiction and novel length works at his home in Evanston, Illinois where he studies short fiction forms and currently reads Henry Green’s work. Other writing can be found in The New York Tyrant, No Posit, Storyglossia, Corduroy MTN, Lit Up Magazine, and elsewhere on the web and in print.
I want to go on record and say that the novella is the best best best form. It delivers the incendiary pleasure of the single-sitting read alongside the heft and weight of something novel-like. If you don’t read novellas like Peter Taylor’s The Old Forest, Christopher Coake’s All Through the House, or Jennifer Spiegel’s Goodbye, Madagascar, before you die, you will die impoverished for the omission.
Here Are Twenty-Five Novellas You Must Read Before You Die:
1. The Old Forest, by Peter Taylor
(in The Old Forest and Other Stories, and also in The Granta Book of the Long Story, edited by Richard Ford)
2. Goodbye, Madagascar, by Jennifer Spiegel
(soon to be collected in her debut book, forthcoming from Dzanc Books; first appeared in the Frostproof Review)
3. All Through the House, by Christopher Coake
(in We’re in Trouble, and Best American Mystery Stories 2004)
4. The Barracks Thief, by Tobias Wolff
(in The Barracks Thief, a standalone volume from Ecco)
5. One of Star Wars, One of Doom, by Lee K. Abbott
(in All Things, All at Once; the long version of the Norton Anthology, edited by Richard Bausch; and in a handsome standalone volume from New American Press)
6. The Talk Talked Between Worms, by Lee K. Abbott
(in All Things, All at Once; Wet Places at Noon; and O. Henry Prize Stories 1997)
7. Good Old Neon, by David Foster Wallace
(in Oblivion, and O. Henry Prize Stories 2002)
8. The Dew Breaker, by Edwidge Danticat
(in The Dew Breaker)
9. The Age of Grief, by Jane Smiley
(in The Age of Grief, and The Granta Book of the Long Story, edited by Richard Ford)
10. The Womanizer, by Richard Ford
(in Women with Men, and in Granta 40: The Womanizer)
11. Sonny’s Blues, by James Baldwin
(in Going to Meet the Man, and in lots of anthologies)
12. Auslander, by Michelle Herman
(in A New and Glorious Life, and in 20 Under 30, edited by Debra Spark)
13. Voices from the Moon, by Andre Dubus
(in Selected Stories, and in the standalone volume Voices from the Moon from Godine)
14. We Don’t Live Here Anymore, Adultery, and Finding a Girl in America, by Andre Dubus
(all available in We Don’t Live Here Anymore, and all available in their original Dubus volumes; Adultery also in Selected Stories)
15. The Pretty Girl, by Andre Dubus
(in Selected Stories and The Times Are Never So Bad)
16. Gusev, by Anton Chekhov
(in The Other Chekhov, edited by Minor and Elliott, and in lots of other anthologies)
17. A Bear Came Over the Mountain, by Alice Munro
(in Away from Her; Courtship, Loveship; the Everyman edition; etc.)
18. Rape: A Love Story, by Joyce Carol Oates
(a standalone from Carroll & Graf)
19. Black Water, by Joyce Carol Oates
(a standalone from Dutton)
20. Pale Horse, Pale Rider, by Katherine Anne Porter
(in Collected Stories)
21. The Whore’s Child, by Richard Russo
(in The Whore’s Child and Other Stories)
22. Pastoralia, George Saunders
(in Pastoralia and Other Stories)
23. The Brief and Frightening Reign of Phil, by George Saunders
(in a standalone from Riverhead)
24. The Prague Orgy, by Philip Roth
(in The Prague Orgy, a standalone from Vintage, and in Zuckerman Bound)
25. An Upright Man, by Holly Goddard Jones
(in the forthcoming Girl Trouble from HarperCollins)
Kyle Minor is the author of In the Devil’s Territory, a collection of short fiction, and co-editor of The Other Chekhov. His recent work appears in The Southern Review, The Gettysburg Review, and Plots with Guns, and in anthologies such as Best American Mystery Stories 2008 , guest edited by George Pelecanos (Houghton Mifflin, 2008), Surreal South (Press 53, 2007), edited by Pinckney Benedict and Laura Benedict, and Twentysomething Essays by Twentysomething Writers (Random House, 2006). As a graduate student at the Ohio State University, he was a three-time honoree (in fiction, poetry, and nonfiction) in The Atlantic Monthly’s annual writing contest. Random House named Kyle one of the “Best New Voices of 2006,” and The Columbus Dispatch named him one of their ”20 Under 30 Artists to Watch” in 2007. Find him HERE.
Okay, here’s a quick and dirty list of some novellas I like. Not sure it’s the best list, but it’s what I can think of offhand:
Kitchen, by Banana Yoshimoto
The Testament of Daedalus, by Michael Ayrton
Believers, by Charles Baxter
Log of the S.S. the Mrs Unguentine, by Stanley Crawford
Benito Cereno, by Herman Melville
The Time Machine, by H.G. Wells
Jealousy, by Alain Robbe-Grillet
Ander Monson lives in Michigan where he edits the magazine DIAGRAM and the New Michigan Press. He is the author of three books: Neck Deep and Other Predicaments: Essays (Graywolf Press, February 2007), Other Electricities (a sort-of novel, Sarabande Books, 2005), and Vacationland (poems, Tupelo Press, 2005).
Deb Olin Unferth
The Hearing Trumpet, by Leonora Carrington
Carrington is a surrealist painter, once lover of Max Ernst. This is an incredibly strange book, utterly charming and readable but also unlike anything I’ve ever read.
The Loved One, by Evelyn Waugh
I love Waugh, all the comedies. I find his more serious work a little dull, but that may be my own failing.
The Lover, by Marguerite Duras
This is a classic. She also wrote a memoir called The War. The first section of it could be considered a memoir-novella and is brilliant, devastating, painful to read, it’s so disturbing.
Notes from Underground, by Fyodor Dostoyevsky
Chronicle of a Death Foretold, by Gabriel Garcia Marquez
This is my favorite Marquez. The first sentence tells the story of the entire book and the rest of the pages are an unraveling of that sentence. The tone is interesting and pitch-perfect.
Motorman, by David Ohle
Well, what can I say about a book like this? You must read it. That’s all.
Trout Fishing in America, by Richard Brautigan
One of my favorite books of all time. The language is like a revolution against the language I’ve been taught to admire, and I love that about it. The only bad part is the trout fishing part—I’m a vegan.
You Are a Little Bit Happier Than I Am, by Tao Lin
This is a book of poetry, but the book is very voiced, and the character is so vivid, that for me it falls in the novella category, a la Brautigan
Deb Olin Unferth is the author of a collection of stories, Minor Robberies, and a novel, Vacation, both published by McSweeney’s. Her stories have appeared in Harper’s, Fence, AGNI, and other magazines. She is a frequent contributor to Noon. In 2009, she received a Creative Capital Grant from the Warhol Foundation.
Quickly off the top of my head with not books on my shelf, and not knowing really whether they qualify as novellas, but short novels that stick out in my mind (in addition to Ever, The Revisionist, Tortoise, and Land of the Snow Men, which are probably not fair to list since I published them):
Crying of Lot 49, by Thomas Pynchon
Heart of Darkness, by Joseph Conrad
Father Costume, by Ben Marcus
Log of the S.S. The Mrs Unguentine, by Stanley G. Crawford
The Body Artist, by Don DeLillo
The Brotherhood of Mutilation, by Brian Evenson
My Life in the Bush of Ghosts, by Amos Tutuola
Of Mice and Men, by John Steinbeck
The Metamorphosis, by Franz Kafka
The Old Man and the Sea, by Ernest Hemingway
Pastoralia, by George Saunders
Crime and Punishment, by Fyodor Dostoevsky
As I Lay Dying, by William Faulkner
The Stranger, by Albert Camus
Catcher in the Rye, by J.D. Salinger
Derek White runs Calamari Press, edits Sleepingfish and blogs HERE. He is the author of Poste Restante, and his work has appeared in places like Versal, Denver Quarterly, Quarter After Eight, LIT, and Post Road.
A Day Meant to Do Less, by Kyle Minor
The piece that grabbed the attention of Dzanc Books. We read that and immediately asked Kyle if he had a collection of stories to wrap around it.
Tenorman, by David Huddle
I think Huddle is truly one of the undiscovered masters of writing the past forty years. Short fiction, poems, and essays all just top notch. His novels, I enjoyed, but not so much as the shorter work but with Tenorman, somewhere in between, his words are golden.
The North of God, by Steven Stern
Stern’s ability to take what I assume to be a Yiddish folktale, and merge it alongside a story that retells this folktale, though from within a cattle car of Jews headed to a concentration camp, to show the power of storytelling itself, is a marvelous bit of writing. In writing this, Stern reminds us of the power of the human spirit and does so with a helluva tale at that.
Poachers, by Tom Franklin
The novella that titled his first collection, a Hitchcockian with drama and suspense build through the story as three amoral young brothers are slowly stalked and picked off, one by one, by an ex-poaching game warden.
Not, by David Huddle
It is told in numerous short lists or paragraphs. Only one or two of these reaches the length of a page, but they each tell incredible amounts about Claire, the protagonist. The essence of this novella is Claire suffering a breakdown of sorts in her office and deciding that her entire life has been a series of incidents where she has convinced herself she was happy.
Pafko at the Wall, by Don DeLillo
When this was originally published in Harper’s, it blared on the cover, a new novella by Don DeLillo. Later it was the prologue to Underworld, and then later yet, republished in a special hardcover version as Pafko at the Wall again. If the rest of Underworld could have maintained this pace, this level of writing, it would be my favorite novel ever. This section as a stand alone is probably my favorite piece of writing. I don’t know if DeLillo always intended for it to be the lead in to a 500-plus page novel, but maybe he was as enamored with the original novella as I was and just felt he had to try to keep going.
Based on a True Story, by Hesh Kestin.
The title novella of the trio Dzanc published last year. Actually, all three are fantastic, but this one, set in pre-World War II Black Hollywood was my favorite of the bunch. Kestin combines the classic writing style of the old masters with the smart ass attitude of some of the more contemporary writers.
Dan Wickett started the Emerging Writers Network in 2000 and then co-founded Dzanc Books in late 2006. He currently runs both.
The Daisy Dolls, by Felisberto Hernández
Next to a garden was a factory, and the noise of the machines seeped through the plants and trees.
Ah, that bottle of French wine! As if Exit, pursued by a Bear became the foundation for an entire life. Felisberto was, is, a complete unknown. A piano player who wrote on his own and never saw his work published legitimately. A book that will make you look up occasionally, wondering if you are going crazy–it puts the whole world on tilt: are the characters real, does the author believe they are real? are the dolls real? is the wife real? are the reflections of the narrator, dolls and wife in the many mirrors real? In this maze of hyper irreality the reader ends up happily lost. A gem. Italo Calvino (who wrote the introduction to the reprint) and Gabriel García Márquez were sure of it.
The Snow of the Admiral, by Álvaro Mutis
Like finding a copy of The Charterhouse de Parma and a battered Betamax of Fitzcarraldo hiding under Jim’s pillow in Huck Finn’s boat. It was originally conceived as a prose-poem, and in it Mutis can walk a character across a room and somehow find a startling new dimension to the language. An adventure story told with some of the most exquisite sentences every constructed.
In Praise of Shadows, by Jun’ichirō Tanizaki
But I know as well as anyone that these are the empty dreams of a novelist, and that having come this far we cannot turn back. . .
The last stanza of Dylan’s “Desolation Row,” when the words crash through metaphor and into personal—this entire book is like that. If you are into light, aesthetics and the total sublimation of self into home decor . . . even if not, this is a book about choices, about responsibility, an instruction manual for creating a permeable barrier between self and other, between light and darkness.
[one love affair]*, by Jenny Boully
You are only beautiful when you are yourself, and that is rarely, he said.
A great break-up book if there ever was one. Boully gets dumped into the netherworld of prose-poetry. It’s a shame. This is a complex and beautiful dissection of a relationship. One of the best of the past few years. Another writer who makes startling sentences of aching beauty.
Yann Andrea Steiner, by Marguerite Duras
There is better Duras, perhaps, but the strange relationship between the twined stories, the intense passion of the main character, both are offset by a sublime empathy. If you liked “In an Aeroplane Over the Sea” enough to listen to again . . . and did listen to it again, and then a glimmer of a thought appeared, and then it dawned upon you what the album was half about, and then it became difficult to listen to without crying . . . and if you didn’t know why because it all seemed so improbable. . .
Roman Nights, by Pier Paolo Pasolini
Pasolini dulls the language, hammers it down to a gun metal blue-gray–even translated to English the language is beautiful. Even more shocking is the point of view: it floats with balletic movement. The movement itself is beautiful. A broken book but a tour de force nonetheless. Many broken narratives do this, accomplish something primal, Super Flat
Times, George Washington by David Gordon Green, Wise Blood, Kenneth Anger’s movies, Walter Benjamin’s The Arcades Project. . .
Old Man, by William Faulkner
A book that is about everything. Here, the metaphor grows until its lips cup the whole world.
On Being Blue, by William Gass
Blue pencils, blue noses, blue movies, laws, blue legs and stockings, the language of birds, bees, and flowers as sung by longshoremen, that lead-like look the skin has when affected by cold, contusion, sickness, fear; the rotten rum or gin they call blue ruin and the blue devils of its delirium; Russian cats and oysters, a withheld or imprisoned breath, the blue they say that diamonds have, deep holes in the ocean and the blazers which English athletes earn that gentlemen may wear; afflictions of the spirit—dumps, mopes, Mondays—all that’s dismal—lowdown gloomy music, Nova Scotians, cyanosis, hair rinse, bluing, bleach; the rare blue dahlia like that blue moon shrewd things happen only once in, or the call for trumps in whist (but who remembers whist or what the death of unplayed games is like?), and correspondingly the flag, Blue Peter, which is our signal for getting under way; a swift pitch, Confederate money, the shaded slopes of clouds and mountains, and so the constantly increasing absentness of Heaven (ins Blaue hinein, the Germans say), consequently the color of everything that’s empty: blue bottles, bank accounts, and compliments, for instance, or, when the sky’s turned turtle, the blue-green bleat of ocean (both the same), and, when in Hell, its neatly landscaped rows of concrete huts and gas-blue flames; social registers, examination booklets, blue bloods, balls, and bonnets, beards, coats, collars, chips, and cheese . . . the pedantic, indecent and censorious . . . watered twilight, sour sea: through a scrambling of accidents, blue has become their color, just as it’s stood for fidelity.
Soul, by Andrei Platanov
If you buy the NYRB book, start with the last story “The Return” before reading this novella–it’s a weeper.
Among Women Only, by Cesare Pavese
The thing most feared in secret always happens.
Cesare Pavese strapped himself to the cutting edge of a paradox. On one side suicide, bitterness and self-destruction; on the other, life, love and creation.
My Death, My Life, by Pier Pasolini, by Kathy Acker
A treatise on the stories we tell ourselves, on history and art . . . and the chasm between those things and our libidos, ids and egos. A brutal writer who took big blocks, shapes, sex, memory, and sent them all crashing into one another.
My Uncle, The Jaguar, by Joao Guimaraes Rosa
Minas Gerais, Diordim, Ze Bebelo. Jacungo’s . . . If you can’t afford the $325 to buy the awful translation of his masterwork The Gran Sertao (The Devil to Pay in the Backlands), you can start with this novella. What did Engdahl say? “The U.S. is too isolated, too insular. They don’t translate enough and don’t really participate in the big dialogue of literature. That ignorance is restraining.” And people were irritated about this? Knopf has not reprinted Rosa’s Gran Sertao since 1961. And this novel is considered one of the greatest books of all time anywhere outside of the States. If it weren’t for Morrison, Markson and John Ashbery (throw in McCarthy’s Blood Meridian), America would not have a single contemporary writer to be remembered 100 years from now.
Andrew Zornoza is the author of the novel Where I Stay from Tarpaulin Sky Press. His fiction and essays have appeared in magazines such as Gastronomica, Sleepingfish, H.O.W Journal, Confrontation, Porcupine Literary Arts, CapGun, and Matter Magazine, among others. He teaches writing at The New School University and fiction at Gotham Writer’s Workshop. Further information can be found HERE.