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.

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.