Category Archives: Novellas

Leni Zumas’s Eight Great Novellas

1. The Turn of the Screw, by Henry James (1898)
Weird children worry the governess.

2. Death in Venice, by Thomas Mann (1913)
Body is beautiful. Body is contagious. Body rides vaporetto. Body decays.

3. Pale Horse, Pale Rider, by Katherine Anne Porter (1939)
Fever can kill you quicker than bullets.

4. The Day of the Locust, by Nathanael West (1939)
Hollywood is peculiar half-world of high-gruesomes.

5. The Ballad of the Sad Café, by Carson McCullers (1951)
Hunchback dwarf makes best lover.

6. Closely Watched Trains, by Bohumil Hrabal (1965)
Boy dreams at depot in Nazi-occupied Czechoslovakia. With semaphores.

7. What Begins with Bird, by Noy Holland (2005)
Uncanny new language is concocted for mothers, for sisters, and for mourners.

8. The Uncommon Reader, by Alan Bennett (2007)
Library is on wheels—kitchen boy encourages—Queen of England begins to write.

Leni Zumas is the author of the story collection Farewell Navigator (Open City, 2008). Her work has appeared in New York Tyrant, Quarterly West, Harp & Altar, Open City, and New Orleans Review. She is the recipient of numerous awards and is an Artist-in-Residence in the Lower Manhattan Cultural Council’s Workspace program. She is Associate Director of the Juniper Summer Writing Institute. She currently teaches at Columbia University. Visit her HERE.

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John Dermot Woods’s Top Ten Novellas

Here’s what I’ve come up with, although I’m sure I’ve missed something great. Here’s ten novellas (I think they’re novellas—never easy to tell, is it?) that live inside me—the first ten that came to mind.

The Aspern Papers, by Henry James
The plot of this one should be made into a Hollywood movie (I’m trying to do it). James offers no retribution or consolation. Neil LaBute’s In the Company of Men reminds me of The Aspern Papers in that regard.

The Age of Wire and String, by Ben Marcus
You can’t write the same after reading this one. Marcus wears his influences on his sleeve (Beckett, Barthelme) in many ways, but, in doing so, offers storytellers a whole new method for world-building.

The Crying of Lot 49, by Thomas Pynchon
This book is fun. Maybe not the profound and disturbing works that his mega-novels are, but one of the most enjoyable pieces of literature written last century.

Notes from Underground, by Fyodor Dostoevsky
This one began Dostoevskys exploration of containment and claustrophobia. And it’s pretty damn immediate when read these days. If you haven’t read it since college, you should.

David Boring, by Dan Clowes
So much of Clowes work is amazing (Ghost World, Ice Haven, etc.), but this book was the first I read by him, and it really stretched my concept of how normal a fantastic story could be. As great as the feeling in his other work is, the way he pushed the weirdness in this one about half a step further makes it stand out in my mind.

Storeyville, by Frank Santoro
This one is all about the pages. Frank Santoro questions comic conventions in his very composition. (And he does it pretty overtly with his incendiary—but always thoughtful—posts over at Comics, Comics.) The pencils and blocks of muted colors and lack of panel gutters create a new way to conceive of pages. This book allows creators to realize that many assumptions about page composition are appropriate for a very specific type of comic, but not all.

To the Lighthouse, by Virginia Woolf
I rip this book off every time I write.

No Longer Human, by Osamu Dazai
Like James, Dazai makes no apologies. Neither do his characters. Like Dostoevsky, he embraces claustrophobia. Dazai smacks you in the face and then shrugs when you look at him quizzically, as if to say, “That’s all I got.”

The Loser, by Thomas Bernhard
It’s hard to choose one from Bernhard, but this was one that I thought I could define as a novella, so I went with it. Bernhard always distracts us and asks us to look at the thing beside the thing. Forget about the focus, forget about that hotshot Glenn Gould, look at the other suckers. And his prose is relentless. He never lets you breathe; it’s exhilarating to read his one-hundred-page paragraphs.

The Dead, by James Joyce
Subtext, tear-jerking—do I have to explain this one?

Jakob Von Gunten, by Robert Walser
My obsession of the month. (I actually just posted about it on my blog.) This book defines what people mean when they say, “Love is the closest thing to hate.”

John Dermot Woods writes stories and draws comics. He is a professor in the English Department at Nassau Community College on Long Island. He edits the arts quarterly Action Yes and organizes the online reading series Apostrophe Cast. His fiction and comics have appeared in Indiana Review, American Letters & Commentary, No Colony, Hobart, sleepingfish, 3rd Bed, Salt Hill, and other places. He lives in Brooklyn, New York. Visit him HERE.

Kevin Wilson’s Top Ten Favorite Novellas

I fear this is too long. I chose novellas that aren’t presented by themselves in a book. So no Miss Lonelyhearts or Ballad of the Sad Café or EVER, all three amazing books that I would have included otherwise. Instead, I picked stories that are listed as novellas within a larger collection. People might call them long short stories, but I’m calling them novellas. Also, instead of trying to think of variations of “This is awesome,” I just picked lines from the novellas that say “This is awesome” in the author’s own words. If it’s too long, cut it out. Thanks again for thinking of me and I can’t wait to see what other people pick.

Favorite Novellas

1. We’re All in This Together, by Owen King

2. Magic for Beginners, by Kelly Link

3. Blessed Assurance: A Moral Tale, by Alan Gurganus

4. Ship Fever, by Andrea Barrett

5. Bibliophilia, by Michael Griffith

6. The Wrong Thing, by Mary Gaitskill

7. Tumble Home, by Amy Hempel

8. Revenge, by Steven Millhauser

9. The Spotted Pup, by Dorothy B. Hughes

10. A Day Meant To Do Less, by Kyle Minor

“To put it succinctly, she said that Gil believe with absolute certainty that he had once stroked Ralph Nader’s naked thighs at a masquerade orgy…it was Gil’s testimony that the masked man had returned his thigh-stroking in kind, and with all the compassion and attention that one might have expected from a person who had selflessly dedicated his life to the public good.”
From We’re All In This Together, by Owen King

“In the previous episode of The Library, masked pirate-magicians said they would sell Prince Wing a cure for the spell that infested Faithful Margaret’s hair with miniature, wicked, fire-breathing golems.”
From Magic for Beginners, by Kelly Link

“The more vivid each dark person became, the blanker, blander, and whiter I felt. A plug of stray cotton.”
From Blessed Assurance: A Moral Tale, by Alan Gurganus

“They had buried a hundred and seven at sea, he said. Or perhaps it was a hundred and seventy. When they ran out of old sails to use as shrouds they’d slipped the bodies into weighted meal-sacks and tipped them over the bulwarks on hatch-battens.”
From Ship Fever, by Andrea Barrett

“She wishes these shiny young people would keep their ids and orifices to themselves: diddle one another silly in private, if they want, but keep the library a preserve for the book and its dusty devotees. Is that too much to ask? The books, safe in their cellophane condoms, set a fine and celibate example, but no one heeds. No one heeds.”
From Bibliophilia, by Michael Griffith

“To entertain me, she brought a large cardboard box out of the closet and showed me what was in it. There were somber albums of family pictures (tiny troubled Erin in a ruffled swimsuit, handsome Dad looking absently at something outside the frame, towering, pissed-off Mom), a plaque that had been awarded to her in a high school photography contest, a track team trophy, a bracelet her brother had made for her in junior high, love letters, an artificial penis made of rubber, an apparatus with which to strap it on, an odd assortment of small plastic animals, and some Polaroids of Erin naked except for a dog collar and leash around her neck.”
From The Wrong Thing, by Mary Gaitskill

“I have killed two of the wrong things to kill. It is not like the city where you know what to kill. First a preying mantis (they will eat the other bugs if you give them a chance to do it) and then a firefly which, without its glow, was just a beetle in the bathroom.”
From Tumble Home, by Amy Hempel

“Apparently the thing to do was find his E spot. When you found it, you pressed it. Then he raped you. Your marriage was saved. The trouble with the E spot was that it was very hard to locate; it was somewhere near the abdomen, or the pancreas.”
From Revenge, by Steven Millhauser

“…the glare of movie marquees…Chinese restaurants and hole-in-the-wall gyp joints called night clubs…cafeterias and greasy hamburger stands, hat shops, pawn shops, candy shops, junk jewelry shops, book shops, phonograph record shops, everything scribbled with neon, everything blaring with noise, glaring with light.”
From The Spotted Pup, by Dorothy B. Hughes

“The sock had to come off. He tried again, this time stretching the fabric as carefully around the arch as he had around the heel. When the sock cleared skin, he saw something like a rash, a reddish-purple blemish that covered most of the arch, surrounded by a deep yellowish-purple ring, a deep, deep bruise.”
From A Day Meant to Do Less, by Kyle Minor

Kevin Wilson is the author of the collection, Tunneling to the Center of the Earth (Ecco/Harper Perennial, 2009). His fiction has appeared in Ploughshares, Tin House, One Story, Cincinnati Review, and elsewhere, and has twice been included in the New Stories from the South: The Year’s Best anthology. He has received fellowships from the MacDowell Colony, Yaddo, and the KHN Center for the Arts. He lives in Sewanee, Tennessee, teaches fiction at the University of the South and helps run the Sewanee Writers’ Conference. Visit him HERE.

William Walsh’s Top Twenty Favorite Novellas

I have compiled a top ten list that is two times larger than requested. It’s assembled in alpha order by title. My favorite is Pafko at the Wall, by Don DeLillo, which I read in Harper’s when it first came out, then as a chapter in Underworld, and then again when it was released as a stand-alone book a few years ago. I think I like it so much because Jackie Gleason, The Great One, is in it.

I read almost all of the novellas on the list many years ago, some as a teenager. I have a soft spot for Raise High the Roof Beam, Carpenters and Seymour: An Introduction, and all of Salinger, which I read one week in tenth grade when I was home sick from school. Of the more recent novellas listed, my favorite is Shopgirl by Steve Martin with Spanking the Maid by Robert Coover a close second. I am surprised that three novellas by Henry James are on this list, but I couldn’t take even one off.

1. The Awakening, by Kate Chopin

2. Bartleby, the Scrivener: A Story of Wall Street, by Herman Melville

3. The Bear, by William Faulkner

4. The Beast in the Jungle, by Henry James

5. The Body Artist, by Don DeLillo

6. Daisy Miller, by Henry James

7. Ethan Frome, by Edith Wharton

8. EVER, by Blake Butler

9. The Metamorphosis, by Franz Kafka

10. Of Mice and Men, by John Steinbeck

11. Old Man and the Sea, by Ernest Hemingway

12. Pafko at the Wall, by Don DeLillo

13. Raise High the Roof Beam Carpenters and Seymour: An Introduction by J.D. Salinger

14. Seize the Day, by Saul Bellow

15. Shopgirl, by Steve Martin

16. The Singing Fish, by Peter Markus

17. Spanking the Maid, by Robert Coover

18. The Stranger, by Albert Camus

19. The Train Was On Time, by Heinrich Boll

20. Turn of the Screw, by Henry James

William Walsh is the author of Without Wax: A Documentary Novel and Questionstruck. His fiction and derived texts have appeared in New York Tyrant, Caketrain, Juked, Rosebud, Quarterly West, Lit, McSweeney’s Internet Tendency, and other journals. Find him HERE.

Justin Taylor’s Favorite Novellas

The Mist, by Stephen King
The first story in his collection Skeleton Crew. It’s a wonderful piece of B-movie fun, and a sort of Lovecraft homage besides.

Milk, by Darcey Steinke
A nursing mother experiences what might be a vision or presence of the divine. It’s dark, compelling, and erotic. Highly recommended.

The Ash Gray Proclamation, by Dennis Cooper
Gay cannibal psychic Al-Qaeda operatives invade a small Arkansas town. What’s not to love? I should give a plug here—this story was first collected in an anthology I edited, The Apocalypse Reader, but it’s now coming out in Dennis’s next collection, Ugly Man (Summer 2009).

At the Mountains of Madness, by H.P. Lovecraft
Lovecraft’s only book-length work of real merit, and how! It’s a sort of guerrilla sequel to Poe’s novel, The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym. Lovecraft would have insisted his book was a novel also, but it clocks at just about 100 pages, and honestly, when it comes to novel vs. novella, a lot of times it’s less about the length than the feel of something. You’ve got to know it when you see it.

Brian Evenson
Hmm, that’s a name without a title. Well here’s the thing. Brian’s a great writer, and one I admire hugely, but I haven’t read either of the self-described novellas of his that I know of: The Brotherhood of Mutilation and Dark Property. HOWEVER. I heard him read from his novel, The Open Curtain once, and during the Q&A he said that he wrote each of the parts (there are 3) as if it were its own novella—so I’m going to go ahead and include him as a Friend of the Novella.

Story of the Eye, by Georges Bataille
This is really a novel, albeit a short one, but yesterday when Kendra asked me if I thought she should include it on her list I said yeah, she might as well, and so if she gets to name-check old GB then I want to also. This shit is triple X of the first water. Incest! Death! Murder-sex! Yes, please!

Bounty, by George Saunders
I think Saunders would tell you this is a story, not a novella, but I’m not 100% sure. It’s the last—and longest—story in his first collection, CivilWarLand in Bad Decline. (Saunders is also the author of a novella I haven’t had the chance to read, The Brief and Frightening Rein of Phil.)

Heart of Darkness, by Joseph Conrad
I think Conrad is one of my favorite writers, or would be if I made more time to read him. I took a Modernism class in college where we read Lord Jim, and Nostromo. I’ve read a few more on my own: The Secret Agent, and a handful of stories, including Heart of Darkness. He’s just mindblowing. A great story-teller, a fantastic stylist—and English was his THIRD language. Did you know Heart of Darkness was written as a sort of breather while he was trying to figure out how to finish up Lord Jim? The two stories have all these weird correspondences, and of course also share a narrator.

Bartleby, the Scrivener: A Story of Wall Street, by Herman Melville
I think this is a short story, not a novel, but Melville House published it in their “Art of the Novella” series, and I guess if anyone would know, it’s them. Anyway, it’s one of the great pieces of American literature, period.

OTHER by WHOEVER – I’m going to leave the tenth spot open, because there’s too much I might not be thinking about at not-quite-ten-AM on a Thursday. For example, why so few women on this list? Do they just not write novellas? I can think of a few—
Amy Hempel’s Tumble Home, The Stupefaction and It Was Like My Trying To Have a Tender-Hearted Nature by Diane Williams, but I’d want to go re-read these books before trying to really talk about them. And If Saunders’s story is a novella, then Mary Gaitskill’s Heaven might be one too. It’s long, it’s the last story in one of her books (I forget which) and I’ve always suspected it of being a secret re-write of To the Lighthouse. But I don’t feel like having that fight right this second. So I guess what I’m saying is that I’m sort of out of novellas. I was going to throw in another Stephen King one, maybe The Breathing Method or Rita Hayworth and Shawshank Redemption, which are both from his collection Different Seasons. Also, I wonder why my list is so weighted toward horror and/or eros? (I didn’t even get around to talking about John Hawkes.) Part of it is that I dig those things, but a non-novella list (a stories list or a novels list) wouldn’t be nearly so skewed. I think maybe it has to do with the how novellas themselves function: basically, they use the extra space to develop character/detail/plot/etc in a way beyond what’s possible in a short story, but they don’t quite go for the golden ring of a novel’s Big Picture or Major Themes (not that novellas don’t have these things—oh you know what I mean!), so what you often end up getting is a sort of super-charged short story: something immersive and compelling and powerful, but still a self-contained experience that is theoretically—even ideally—get-through-able in one sitting. I think both horror and eros thrive in that sort of environment. It helps keep the spell from being broken.

Justin Taylor is the editor of short story anthology The Apocalypse Reader, and the tribute book Come Back, Donald Barthelme (McSweeney’s). His writing has been published in The Believer, Bookslut, NPR Online, The Minneapolis Star-Tribune, The Boston Review, Time Out New York, Paste, and numerous other publications. Find him HERE.

Joe Stracci’s Top Ten Novellas

1. Goodbye, Columbus, by Philip Roth
Released in 1959, Goodbye, Columbus won the 1960 National Book Award and helped to launch the career of one of the greatest living American authors. The title novella is terrific and everything you’d expect from Roth—sad, funny, and thought-provoking. Bonus points for “The Conversion of The Jews,” which is one of the five included short stories.

2. Tumble Home, by Amy Hempel
It would have been difficult to make this list without including Tumble Home. For the Hempl-ites out there, it’s important if only for the fact that it’s the longest uninterrupted period we can have with Amy’s writing. Yes, I am aware that I am talking about her work as if it were a drug. Yes, I’m okay with that.

3. The Pedersen Kid, by William Gass
Gass is one of the (or at least one of my) meta-fiction godfathers. The Pedersen Kid, taken from the collection In the Heart of the Heart of the Country, is absurd and very well-written. It’s one of my favorite things to read when it’s snowing.

4. Hapworth 16, 1924, by J.D. Salinger
It’s always with some pause that I call J.D. Salinger one of my writing heroes, because on more than one occasion I’ve actually wished for his death, just so I’d get a chance to read more of his supposedly hidden-away work. Hapworth is the least well-known of his long-format “published” material, and for anyone who’s interested in the Glass family, this is an important read because we get to see Seymour as child.

5. Bartleby, the Scrivener: A Story of Wall Street, by Herman Melville
This piece holds a special place in my heart because when we read it in college, we went on a week-long binge where we answered everything with the infamous response, “I would prefer not to.” Our writing teacher was not amused. We were.

6. The Dead, by James Joyce
A great way to get into Joyce (read A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man next) if you’re so inclined. A haunting story and one of the few times, in my opinion, that the use of epiphany is done so in an organic and believable way.

7. Carrying the Body, by Dawn Raffel
Technically, Carrying the Body is a novel, but considering it’s shorter than most of the works on this list, I didn’t have an issue with putting it on here. Dawn Raffel isn’t my favorite author—I don’t even like Carrying the Body all that much—but what she’s doing is such an extreme form of minimalism that it deserves to be read, just to be able to take note of the results. I dig boundary-pushing and Raffel is an extremist.

8. The Former World Record Holder Settles Down, by Courtney Eldridge
From the collection Unkempt, a solid group of stories. This is a novella about a former porn star, once (in)famous for having sex with 197 men, now trying to lead a normal, happy life. Eldridge deserves a wider audience, and The Former World Record Holder Settles Down is proof why.

9. In the Penal Colony, by Franz Kafka
I am tired of In the Penal Colony playing second fiddle to The Metamorphosis. The Metamorphosis is overly dramatic, supremely unrealistic, and boring. I recognize that In the Penal Colony is not quite novella length, but I don’t care. I will no longer call the collection its usually bundled in The Metamorphosis and Other Stories. From now on, the new title is: In the Penal Colony and Other Stories, and yes, The Metamorphosis is one of them.

10. A Christmas Carol, by Charles Dickens
Find me someone who hasn’t read A Christmas Carol and/or doesn’t know the premise. It’s impossible. It is the world’s most famous novella, hands down.

Born and raised in The Bronx, Joe Stracci now lives in Purchase, NY, where he’s at work on Whitney, his first novel. A section of it will be published in an upcoming issue of Alaska Quarterly Review. Find him at Artificial Night: Greetings from the Apocalypse.

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.