Book Review 2011-001
The Mimic’s Own Voice by Tom Williams
April 2011 from Main Street Rag, 97 pages
(This Arc sent to me by the author)
Tom Williams’ novella, The Mimic's Own Voice, is short enough to gobble down in a single reading. I don't advise that though. While I was enjoying the book quite a bit when I was forced to stop a little less than halfway through. When I'd had 24 hours to think about it before finding the necessary time to pick it up again, I found myself thinking about aspects of the story that I hadn't really been focusing on while reading those initial 40 or so pages. Having these thoughts rolling through my mind as I read the rest of Williams' story in a second sitting allowed more aspects to jump out at me and I was able to realize just what a nice job Tom Williams has done in this, his first book.
For one thing, in a relatively short space, Williams gets his reader thinking about race and identity (the protagonist comes from a mixed family racially), as well as our current culture and how we view the famous, and last, but not least, he is able to sneak in some views, satirical in nature, about academia. And he does this all through a unique combination of an autobiography (written in second person), and a fairly omniscient narrator's look at how the autobiography is viewed, as well as how the author of said autobiography was viewed during his life.
"Myles's manuscript, housed now at The Pratt-Falls Center, Dr. Greene's home institution, excited layman and scholars at first, for all suspected it had been written for publication. Yet no contract exists among Myles's papers (and, as the reader shall see, he was quite the saver), nor can one be found in the files of any publishers. This increased speculation that a bidding war for its rights would take place, though after the manuscript's seventy-three handwritten pages were initially read, no offers, save for the Pratt-Falls's, were forthcoming. From its curious usage of second person, to its enigmatic opening and closing lines, "Your name is Douglas Myles . . . . They never really listened," it does not divulge entirely his secrets, while it raises mysteries all its own. Still, there are a host of details which offer, for the first time, a definitive glimpse into his early life."
The author of the autobiography is Douglas Myles, the mimic of the book's title. A fascinating idea by Williams, to use one whose entire celebrity was based on his ability to use other people's voices as a mouthpiece for the ideas presented in the book--seems like a mighty unreliable narrator to me, allowing the reader to decide for his or herself as to what to come away
From the back of the box that holds Interventions:
In what many perceive as a coldly relentless digital age, Pulitzer-Prize winning author Richard Russo has teamed up with his daughter, artist Kate Russo, to create this tribute to the printed book. This handsome and inventive format combines the previously unpublished novella Intervention with three shorter works, two of which have not been published in book form.
The four tales in Interventions ccrackle with Russo's perceptive wit and unwavering compassion for the human condition; and each volume is paired with a small color print of a painting by Kate Russo. Inspired byt he psychological landscape, these paintings explore the dark places of the characters' psyches, that fear or injustice they obsess about.
Printed in the United States on the finest sustainably harvested papers, the set is as much a joy to hold in the hand as it is to read.
While I don't fully agree with the first ten words of the description, I am glad that his own belief in those words caused Russo to put this project together. I was completely unaware of this before last night, when I was attending a reading at Nicola's Books in Ann Arbor. I saw Russo's name looking out at me from the new fiction cart at the front of the store and having been a fan of his since Vintage re-released The Risk Pool and Mohawk, I picked it up and that's when I realized it was something different, not a standard book, but a box with four smaller printings inside it, one for the novella and each of the three stories included (quick side note--you all should visit Nicola's if only to have David McLendon help you out--an incredibly generous and man knowing of al things literary--just a great bookseller). The fact that it had a previously unpublished novella during the month of June made it seem like an item that had to go to the counter with me.
Intervension, the novella, is a really solid and quick read. A tale of mortality, of friendship, of family, of marital relationships, it features much of what makes Russo's writing stand out. The questions or issues that arise during the course of the novella are pretty much all tied together by the end, though not in a way that hammers the reader over the head--Russo does this tying together in a nice, slow, and what seems to be a proper manner. He's given his readers very believable characters and situations for them to wallow around in.
The books themselves within the box are very nice. It was obviously a labor of love putting this project together. I'm not fully sure I understand how the print that was within this novella fits it any more than the prints inside the short stories would have fit, but so long as it makes sense to the author and painter, I suppose that's enough. The combination of the effort though, and t
Another definition that I like a lot--this time from Matthew Simmons:
I read a book some time ago called, I think, Twelve German Novellas, and in the intro it mentioned that early on "novella" was not just a way to refer to a length, but a style as well. A novella, it said, was a longer short story, concisely plotted, and with a twist somewhere in the middle that sends the story careening off in an unexpected direction.
Now, I haven't read that book in quite a while. I could be misremembering. (I am very likely misremembering. I feel like I have a terrible memory.) But even if I am misremembering this, I have decided at this point not to go back and find out if this is, in fact, what it says a novella is, because I like thinking that this is what a novella is. I have published one, and have drafts for two more novellas, and I have always followed that definition when writing them. And I have always, when I have picked up another novella, hoped to read a thing that fits that definition.
Because, really, doesn't that sound like exactly the sort of thing you'd like to read?
Matthew Simmons is the author of A Jello Horse
(Publishing Genius Press, 2009), The Moon Tonight Feels My Revenge
(Keyhole Press, 2010), and the upcoming collection Happy Rock
(Dark Coast Press, 2013). More things about him can be found at happyrockisabook.tumblr.com
Today we have a definition from J.A. Tyler, publisher at Mud Luscious Press:
Obviously, as a publisher of novel(la)s, we are in love with the form. And here is a short definition of the field as we see it, as well as a fun misconception we’d love to address:
Since our start, Mud Luscious Press has called a ‘novella’, a ‘novel(la)’, and most wrongly assume that those parentheses are an attempt to highlight the ‘la’ as a reference to the poetry, the ‘song’ of the works we publish. And while this is a nice, if wholly unintended consequence of those parentheses, they are in fact meant to highlight the word ‘novel’ embedded within novella, a reminder that well-written novellas are novels in all sense of the word: they have fully formed narratives, engaging characters, subtle and strong motifs, and all the other wonderful magic of a good book; and for us, the extra special beauty of a good novel(la) is that it does all of these things but in a more finite space, forcing the text to live, in our opinion, a tad more vividly, with a somewhat greater punch to the readerly throat.
J. A. Tyler is the author of several books including the recently released Variations of a Brother War and the forthcoming The Zoo, A Going. He is also founding editor of Mud Luscious Press. For more on his writing, visit: www.chokeonthesewords.com.
From Europa Editions (2009), Valeria Parrella's debut in English (translated from the Italian by Antony Shugaar), For Grace Received, contains four novellas of Modern Naples. A review is forthcoming but I've read two of the four and enjoyed them quite a bit.
From the publisher:
Winner of the 2005 Renato Fusini Prize, the 2006 Zerilli-Marimò Prize,
and among the finalists for Italy’s most prestigious literary award, the
Strega, For Grace Received announces the English debut of a remarkable
new literary talent.
Here we go with another definition of what a novella is:
The Novella: A
novella is like the 13" inch single from your favorite band. It's a
remix of a good short story into a longer, freer format, where structure
and sentence open up and things happen faster or slower but at the same
time just right. My novella, I Can Make It to California Before It's
Time for Dinner, actually began as a short story by the same name. I
didn't think I could carry the voice through a whole novel, but the
short story bothered me enough, in its containment, to want to set it
free in some other way, see what happened next. And then it was just
right. The novella is the baby bear of literature for us Goldilocks
bio: Jen Michalski's first collection of fiction, Close
Encounters (2007), is available from So New, and her second book is
forthcoming from Dzanc (2013). She is the editor of the anthology City Sages: Baltimore
(CityLit Press, 2010) and the editor of jmww (http://jmww.150m.com).
is a muscular fella,
not an idea like a story
but a world itself whose glory
is in concision, impact and wit:
unpadded, unexpanded, unfit
for summer reading
--it’s single redeeming
grace: no added couth
obscures its truth.
The usual take is either that
it’s a novel, unfinished, still flat
or a story volumized
size. Dead wrong.
The novella is the core
of all, not one word
less --or more.
-- The Iron Will of Shoeshine Cats
, Hesh Kestin's well-received
new novel, is now available through bookstores or online via Amazon and
Barnes & Noble. Want to read the first chapter for free? Go to http://www.dzancbooks.org/store/kestin-shoeshine.html
--only for you! Or check out this video at http://www.dzancbooks.org/multimedia.html
A few more sites have recently noticed that it is novella month! This could potentially mean more and more and more great novella suggestions for us all. Like Fire; Jesse Gordon -- the geek, that is; and POD People, which also has a great in-depth post about the novella as a form.
Book Review 2010-007
All the Day's Sad Stories by Tina May Hall
2009 by Caketrain,
I bought this one
Tina May Hall's novella, All the Day's Sad Stories, won the 2008 Caketrain Chapbook Competition, as judged by Brian Evenson.
It's certainly not hard to see why this manuscript would creep to the top of Evenson's stack - Hall writes of Jake and Mercy, a married couple striving to have a child, while undergoing one hell of a rough year. Jake quits his job to become an online poker player; they kill a dog while driving in a rainstorm; chalk X's mysteriously appear all around their house and yard; Mercy cheats on Jake, though like much of their lives, not in a fully successful manner; and all the while, Mercy's blood flows regularly.
Hall has a seemingly simple way with her language - short sentences without a flashy vocabulary. However, these sentences also tend to capture whatever she is describing fully. One assumes Tina May Hall is one observant person as she slips in details that allow the reader to envision the scene.
The man fingers a bit of bread that has fallen next to his plate, rolls a ball and flattens it. "It's funny," he says, eyes trained on the row of crumbs he is aligning. "I used to yell at that idiot mutt ten times a day." Mercy touches his elbow, hesitantly. His arm goes still as if she is a wild animal he is afraid of startling. He says, "You guys are nice people, good people, I can tell." She clears the dishes as Jake leads him to the front door. Jake comes back with a plastic tub half-filled with Chiclets and says, "He wouldn't take no for an answer." Mercy remembers chicken fried steak at a roadhouse called the Chuck Wagon near her grandmother's farm, the begged nickel, a handful of lacquered gum, the blissful ache of sugar seeping into teeth.
Hall just packs the end of this scene, <spoiler alert> where the couple finds out that the owner of the dog that they hit with their truck is who has been leaving the chalk X's on their property. Mercy invites him in for dinner. This is at the end of that dinner - there are the specifics of the bread crumbs, the bread itself and the man's physical attachment to it. Hall also brings things to a larger scale with the inclusion of the Chiclets and Mercy's memory of childhood.
The fragmentary style of the novella, there are 48 titled chapters, or sections, none of which is longer than a page and a half, fits with Hall's writing well. It allows her to slide her characters in and out of various situations quickly, allowing the reader to get a full scope, especially of Mercy and her actions, and even the thoughts leading to these actions. Much like Hall's effectively short and to the point sentences, so are her sectioned scenarios. All combined, it leads to a very well written and interesting debut. One well worth your time to try to track down and enjoy.
Back to the novellas to hopefully roar through the second half of Novella Month with plenty of content - this, a definition of the novella from Kyle Minor:
Plenty of writers and critics
have attempted to define the novella based upon a word count, which
starts at 10,000 or 30,000 words and ends around 25,000 or 59,000 words.
That's the kind of shaky math I'm happy to endorse. But I'd rather see
the novella defined by a combination of quantitative and qualitative
grounds. It has to be longer than a story and shorter than a novel, but
it also has to feel different than a story and different than a novel.
I'm hard-pressed to find anything novella-like about The Great Gatsby or Seize the Day or Slaughterhouse-Five,
despite their brevity. They're novels. And I can't see declaring James
Baldwin's "Sonny's Blues" or Lee K. Abbott's "One of Star Wars, One of Doom"
anything but short stories. Long short stories, maybe. They've got that
feeling of enclosedness you get when you read a short story. I think
the novella is the form where you get to stretch the short story past
its place of elegant concision, so instead of breaking in the right
place, it goes on and on past the right place, the way life does, so the
meaning it makes is the kind of meaning the length of life makes rather
than the kind of meaning a single episode makes. (See Peter Taylor's
"The Old Forest" or
Jane Smiley's "The
Age of Grief.") Or: the novella is the form where you get to dispense
with scene whenever you feel like it, and compress generations into
seventy or ninety pages. (See Jim Harrison's "Legends of the Fall.") Or:
the novella is the place where you get to traffic in multiple points of
view at story-length for each, so that we see with great concision how
we're missing one another. (See Rick Moody's "The Ring of Brightest
Angels Around Heaven.") Or: the novella is the great form of
incompleteness, where loose ends must remain forever unbound, because
life doesn't offer up such answers. (See Denis Johnson's "Train Dreams.") Or: the
novella is the proper length for the epistolary form (Alice Munro's "A
Wilderness Station"), the altered-consciousness experiment (Katherine Anne Porter's
"Pale Horse, Pale Rider"), the coming-of-age story (Philip Roth's "Goodbye,
Columbus"), and all fables featuring people made of spare parts (George Saunders's The Brief and Frightening Reign of Phil.)
The novella is, in short but at long, the form best suited to all
mean-it-forever experiments in form, in function, in fun-making, in
fundamentalism, in fertilization, and in firmament firebombing.
Kyle Minor is the author of In
the Devil's Territory, a collection of <
What a refreshing question—one that nobody asks these
days. In the late 19th-Century,
the novella was a popular form.
Magazines printed them and paid well for them and readers devoured them
so ravenously that when Henry James published “Daisy Miller” in a popular
magazine, he became instantly infamous for his depiction of an American girl of
loose morals. The form was so good to
James that he called it the “blessed novella.”
Alas, today it is an orphaned form, rarely able to find a home in either
books (publishers have no faith in marketing novellas) or in literary
magazines, which have little space to dedicate to a form that requires so many
My favorite thing about reading and writing novellas (and I
have written four of them, to my agent’s chagrin) is the way the form can have
the propulsive focus of the short story without compromising the expansiveness
of character and event of the novel.
While a short story may show you one or two things about a character, it
does so mostly by suggestion and implication.
Novels, on the other hand, can give us the sense of intimately knowing a
character as well as we think we know ourselves. At the same time, a novel, especially a
larger one, can fatigue the reader with a pleasant sort of boredom that comes
from knowing someone or something too deeply or for too long. After page 200 or 250 or 450, the novel can
lose some of its power to surprise us, to show us something entirely new. As a hybrid form that is at once a compressed
novel and an expansive short story, the novella joins the strengths of both
forms. In 50-120 pages or so, a skilled
writer can sustain tension and suspense while at the same time drawing a full
portrait of several characters.
I’d like to point interested readers to some of the best
novellas of recent decades so that they can see for themselves just how powerful
the form can be. I wonder how many
people know of or have read the classic novella “Light in the Piazza” by
Elizabeth Spencer. It’s absolutely
beautiful, stunningly so, and possesses the compression of the story and the
expansiveness of the novel that I talk about above. It’s a must read. “The Age of Grief” by Jane Smiley is, I
think, her best work and comes in at just over a hundred pages. William Trevor’s “Nights at the Alexandra”
leaves one floored with its tone of aching sadness and nostalgia. More recently Jim Harrison’s “A Beast God
Forgot to Invent” blew me away. No doubt
many have already read Ian McEwan’s On
Chesil Beach, which, with the help of huge font, was sold as a novel. But, in fact, it’s a novella.
One last thought: Why don’t novellas sell in our country as
stand-alone books? I’m in France as I
write this and can walk into a bookstore and purchase any number of beautiful
little paperbacks that the French refer to as “nouvelle” (strictly translated,
this means short story). They run from
80-150 pages, are cheaper than full-length novels, and clearly have an audience
here. In fact, one best-selling fiction
writer, Amélie Nothomb (she’s Belgian but writes in French), publishes almost
exclusively in this form. Clearly, the
French publishing industry takes the form seriously and French readers do,
too. So perhaps the novella only goes
begging on our
A question maybe I could have asked before the 20th of the month - what is your favorite novella? Also, have you read any new novellas this month yet?
I'm not sure I know, Dan, what makes a novella a novella, or what makes a
novel a novel, or a poem a poem or a story a story. What I do know, or
what I think I know, is what makes a sentence an invigorating,
sensation-giving, living, breathing sentence. When a writer is able to
string together enough of those kinds of sentences in some sort of
sequence, I might be willing to claim that what we then have on our
hands is what most people might safely refer to as a story. When a
writer is able to sustain such a sequence of sentences over a length of
time on the page that might stretch out beyond more than a handful of
pages (or fifty or seventy-five pages) I suppose we have to call what
those sentences make a longer story, or a novella. I'm sure folks like John Gardner and other
literary smarty-pants have more rigid ideas to lean their elbows on so
I'll leave that sort of definition-making to folks more schooled in
these sorts of things than I am or will ever claim to be.
true that I've written three such pieces—in recent issues of Black Warrior
Review and Unsaid— that have stretched out beyond the page-limits of
what might be seen as a conventionally-lengthed short work of fiction,
though in each case they each did so without my intention for them to do
so having anything to do with how far the sentences within were willing
to take me. I am always simply taken, in all instances when I am lucky
enough to be inside the writing of a piece of fiction, and I allow
myself, when I can, to be taken and to ride those sentences for as long
as they might have me as a tagger-along.
Peter Markus is the author of four books: Good, Brother, The Moon is a Lighthouse, The Singing Fish, and Bob, or Man on Boat. His next book, We Make Mud, is due out from Dzanc Books in March 2011.
Look forward to much more about this man on this blog in the near future, in July we'll have something akin to what we did with Percival Everett last year.
Here's an analogy: If a short story is a
doll's house and a novel is a rambling abode of many mansions, which you
may enter and explore at your leisure, then the novella is a modest
structure--say, a cottage--whose occupants you're forced to spy upon
through its windows. So what if the novella denies you the primary
intimacy with its characters that a novel affords; it enhances your
awareness of the mystery of their movements, the allusiveness of their
speech, while at the same time preserving your appreciation for the
beautiful symmetry of the structure that contains them.
Steve Stern, winner of the National Jewish Book Award, is the author of several previous novels and novellas. He teaches at Skidmore College in upstate New York. His most recent novel, The Frozen Rabbi, was just published last month by Algonquin.
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Two years ago, the EWN celebrated Novella Month in June hot on the heels of year four (I think) of Short Story Month. Last year, not so much. This year, it's been revived as Deena Drewis over at the wonderful Nouvella, has got things moving--the logo is stolen from their site.
I'm looking forward to reading, discussing, reviewing, etc. some novellas, some publishers that concentrate on novellas, and more.
On twitter, look for #novellamonth