Category Archives: Novellas

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.

David Shields’s Favorite Novellas

Raise High the Roof Beam, Carpenters, by J. D. Salinger

Billy Budd, by Herman Melville

Sylvia, by Leonard Michaels

A Box of Matches, by Nicholson Baker

The Mystery Guest, by Gregoire Bouillier

The Pilgrim Hawk: A Love Story, by Glenway Wescott

The Fall, by Albert Camus

The Pharmacist’s Mate, by Amy Fusselman

Morning, Noon, and Night, by Spalding Gray

Heart of Darkness, by Joseph Conrad

The Dead, by James Joyce

Pale Horse, Pale Rider, by Katherine Anne Porter

David Shields’s new book, The Thing About Life Is That One Day You’ll Be Dead, was a New York Times bestseller. He is the author of eight previous books, including Black Planet: Facing Race During an NBA Season, a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award; Remote: Reflections on Life in the Shadow of Celebrity, winner of the PEN/Revson Award; and Dead Languages: A Novel, winner of the PEN Syndicated Fiction Award. His essays and stories have appeared in the New York Times Magazine, Harper’s, Yale Review, Village Voice, Salon, Slate, McSweeney’s, and Utne Reader; he’s written reviews for the New York Times Book Review, Los Angeles Times Book Review, Boston Globe, and Philadelphia Inquirer. Visit him HERE.