Did you know that June is Novella Month? It’s okay, we didn’t either—not until a few weeks ago. We were sitting around feeling a little bit jealous that there is a Poetry Month and Short Story Month but no Novella Month, and lo and behold: a quick Google search informed us that Dan Wickett, editor of Dzanc Books, established this very holimonth two years ago over at the Emerging Writer’s Network. A whole month to celebrate medium-form fiction!
So celebrate we will. In an effort to spread novella awareness, we’re asking readers to tweet your favorite novellas (or collection containing a novella) with the hashtag #novellamonth. We’ll be compiling a list of all the entries to establish what will be one of the most comprehensive list of novellas around. We’ll be picking three random participants who will receive a subscription to the 2012 Nouvella season (Yes, you can still tweet something that has already been added to the list. And you can tweet more than one of your favorite novellas.) The list will be updated at the end of each week and arranged alphabetically, so come back and see us all month long to build up your novella library; you can click on the images to order the title.
To kick things off, the Nouvella staff and some of our authors have written a little something about their favorites and compiled a starter list. Thanks for helping us celebrate; here’s to extraordinary fiction that can often be read in a single sitting!
First, a confession: I saw the movie version of We Don’t Live Here Anymore before I even knew it was a novella, and that was only because I have had an abiding crush on Mark Ruffalo ever since You Can Count on Me (yeah, I know.) The movie was good enough, but a few more years passed before I came across the novella (the cover of which is 25% Mark Ruffalo’s face—the movie tie-in version is the only version still in print.)
I read it over two nights and I remember feeling, by the end, a little nauseous. I have always, for reasons I’ve stopped trying to pinpoint, been drawn to stories of the quietly-teeming domestic sphere, and Dubus’ novella about two couples’ emotional and physical betrayals is a taut masterpiece in this vein. It leaves you helpless and breathing a little less easy—hopelessly worried for these characters whose desperation is equal parts malice and surrender. These may not sound like selling points, but bear with it. It’s incredible. Dubus was one of the most prolific novella writers ever, and with all the questions we have about what defines the form, he certainly has some of the best answers.
-Deena Drewis, Editor
I didn’t hear Bellow the first time I read him. I mean, I knew I was supposed to like him—hadn’t Krusty the Klown gotten all excited at the prospect of meeting him (“Saul Bellow, Nobel Prize-winning Jewish novelist, wants to have lunch with me? It’s a date!”)? Wasn’t he the major influence on Roth, who I claimed as a major influence? But I was 23 and I’d gotten three-quarters of the way through Herzog and I just couldn’t hear it. Was it supposed to be funny? Philosophical? Philosofunny? I put it down.
Then someone handed me Seize the Day. And there was Tommy Wilhelm all full of neuroses and conflicts I recognized. Ozick called him “a not-so-naive believer in search of a rescuer.” That sounded right. There was Tamkin, half-ridiculous rescuer, claiming that “creative is nature. Rapid. Lavish. Inspirational. It shapes leaves. It rolls the waters of the earth. Man is the chief of this,” while giving bad stock tips. And I finally heard it the way I’d later finally be able to hear Augie March, Humbolt’s Gift, “A Silver Dish”—and yes, years later, Herzog. But in 115 distilled pages of Bellow’s finest novella, I heard it. Seriocomic. Philosophical without relying upon trumped-up depth or, worse, jargon. Full of ideas without fetishizing them. Full of, above all else, capital-C characters. Characters as outsized as Bartleby or Ahab without ever growing cartoonish. Bellow, in all his glory. I heard it. I’ve been laughing (and shaking with anxiety) ever since.
-Daniel Torday, author of The Sensualist
Sometimes I wonder how Hemingway’s boxing analogy would work with Amy Hempel. You’d never get a punch in. She knocks you out twice before the sentence is over. Tumble Home is the longest piece of writing we have from Hempel, and it’s a gift I don’t take lightly. Reading it or any of her work is the surest way I know, besides having/watching a baby, to make life separate into moments.
-Matthew Salesses, author of The Last Repatriate
I first read this novella while lying on my bedroom floor in middle school, and though I struggled to keep up with the references and didn’t fully appreciate the exquisite structure of the thing, I discovered the piece of criticism that would most inform my reading life to this day.
Perhaps this title is cheating slightly, because even though its subject is “women and fiction,” it is more accurately categorized as a long-form essay than medium-form fiction. But a trip into the mind of Virginia Woolf is worthy of any adventure tale, and following the author from a run-in with the domineering beadle at Oxbridge huffing about the Scholars’ lawn to the library at the British Museum is a most worthwhile way to spend Novella Month.
While women are lamenting different book covers and marketing between women’s and men’s novels today, it’s so very refreshing to hear a calm voice from 1928 sanction their outrage without spitting fire at the male race, and rallying all the women around her, and after her, to continue the rise out of bitterness and into great work. Readers and writers of both sexes should turn (or return) to this extraordinary piece to see the stuff a woman writer can be made of.
-Emma Bushnell, Associate Editor
Every few years I go back and re-read Goodbye Columbus, secretly hoping that it won’t be as good as I remember it, and for once Philip Roth (albeit a 20-something version of himself) will be reduced from untouchable master to unintimidating peer. It hasn’t happened yet. Instead, amidst the classic details—the refrigerator stocked with fruit, Brenda’s spoiled little sister, the Gaugin-loving library visitor—I find something new to marvel at, a forgotten or overlooked detail that further increases my enjoyment and admiration of this economical masterpiece.
My most recent (re)discovery was the dinner at the Patimkins when, rather than render all of the tiresome physical details surrounding the conversation—“the words gurgled into mouthfuls, the syntax chopped and forgotten in heapings, spillings, and gorgings”—Roth simply skips it. Switching to a stripped down format of just character name and speech, he casually condenses into a page and a half what another writer might drag out for a chapter. It’s such a smart, sensible, and slyly irreverent narrative move; Roth lets the reader know that, more than anything, a faithful storyteller is at work here. He will not waste your time. He will not tell you what everyone else is telling you. And while he can’t give you life, can’t ever hand over the real thing—because life is overflowing with those tedious heapings, spillings, and gorgings—he will give you an exuberant, witty, and compelling replica. What else could you ask for?
-Panio Gianopoulus, novella forthcoming summer 2012
More Recommended Novellas:
“A Day Meant to Do Less” by Kyle Minor (collected in In the Devil’s Territory)
The Age of Grief by Jane Smiley
The Awakening by Kate Chopin
The Beast in the Jungle by Henry James
Black Water by Joyce Carol Oates
Bonjour Tristesse by Françoise Sagan
Breakfast at the Hotel Déjà Vu by Paul Torday
Breakfast at Tiffany’s by Truman Capote
Brokeback Mountain by Annie Proulx
Chronicle of a Death Foretold by Gabriel García Márquez
CivilWarLand in Bad Decline by George Saunders
Daisy Miller by Henry James
The Day of the Locust by Nathanael West
The Dead by James Joyce
The Death of Ivan Ilyich by Leo Tolstoy
Death in Venice by Thomas Mann
First Love by Ivan Turgenev
Franny and Zooey by J.D. Salinger
The Golden Age by Michal Ajvaz
Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad
I Cannot Get You Close Enough by Ellen Gilchrist
“The International Shop of Coffins” by Tiphanie Yanique (in How to Escape From a Leper Colony)
Interventions by Richard Russo
Invisible Cities by Italo Calvino
Legends of the Fall by Jim Harrison
The Lover by Marguerite Duras
The Loneliness of a Long Distance Runner by Alan Sillitoe
The Long Walk by William Styron
Memory Wall by Anthony Doerr
The Mimic’s Own Voice by Tom Williams
Miss Lonelyhearts by Nathanael West
Mitko by Garth Greenwell
The New Valley by Josh Weil (“Ridge Weather”, “Stillman Wing” and “Sarverville Remains”)
Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck
The Old Man and the Sea by Ernest Hemingway
Pastoralia by George Saunders
Preparations for Search by Joseph McElroy
“The Pretty Girl” by Andre Dubus (in Selected Stories)
The Private Lives of Trees by Alejandro Zambra
A River Runs Through It by Norm Maclean
The Shawl by Cynthia Ozick
“Sonny’s Blues” by James Baldwin (in Going to Meet the Man)
The Stranger by Albert Camus
The Turn of the Screw by Henry James
We Have Always Lived in the Castle by Shirley Jackson
Who Will Run the Frog Hospital? by Lorrie Moore