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June is novella month for the Emerging Writers Network

June 2, 2010 |  2:35 pm

Novellas

June is novella month, for the good folks at the Emerging Writers Network, at least. This means they'll be posting reviews of novellas all month; they've begun with "Circulation" by Tim Horvath, published by indie press Sunnyoutside in March 2009 as a chapbook. But some novellas are published as stand-alone books, in paperback and hardcover. Since the form varies, it raises the question: What is a novella, exactly?

Basically, a novella is shorter than a novel and longer than a short story. But this definition proves unsatisfactory because it depends on the novel (some are quite short) and the short story (some are quite long) to which your novella-thing is being compared.

On the one hand, novellas seem to come from an old tradition. Joseph Conrad's "Heart of Darkness" was published in 1902; I read it with another Conrad novella, "The Secret Sharer" (1909) in high school. But high schoolers these days can read a brand-new novella from none other than Twilight megaseller Stephenie Meyer. Her newest book, "The Short Second Life of Bree Tanner: An Eclipse Novella," hits shelves this week, a 192-page hardcover novella.

Josh Weil is one of the newer literary novella practitioners. His book "The New Valley," a collection of three novellas, has earned him the National Book Foundation's "5 Under 35" award and the Sue Kaufman Prize for First Fiction from the National Academy of Arts and Letters. He defines the novella this way:

If a short story typically looks through a narrow lens at a precise part of the world with an intense focus and a novel looks through a wide lens at a large swath of the world, approaching it with a generosity of scope, then a novella, I think, looks through the narrow lens of a short story, and with a short story's intense focus, at a small, precise part of the world, but it treats what’s within that lens with a novel’s generosity and care. So there’s room for back-story. There’s room to sit with a character for a while, to get to know him or her – and the landscape of the life – in a way that’s not typically possible in a short story. You can fall in love with a character and not be booted away so soon.

Maybe another way to say this is that if you're too busy for Tolstoy and not craving Carver, a novella might fit just right.

-- Carolyn Kellogg
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