Novellas in November 2018

I’m a little late to the party, but if it makes any difference, these novellas were all read in November. Also, it can’t possibly be December yet, even if the calendar says so.

If you’re interested in reading “a brief history of Novellas in November”, visit Laura’s blog, Reading in Bed.


Killing McGee by David Helwig (2011)

I requested this book from the library about 7 months ago, after reading Helwig’s The Stand-In. Coincidentally, it came just in time for Novellas in November.

Lewis is working on a book about McGee’s murder, a Parliamentarian who was assassinated in 1867 in Ottawa. Lewis is a bitter, lonely, failed academic. His marriage is also failing… he and his wife occupy the same apartment, but almost never the same space. He goes to a pub every day after work and closely monitors his alcohol intake according to his meager earnings.

Lewis himself found that he couldn’t look at the pages without a deep moral nausea. He buried the thesis in the darkness, and perhaps his soul went into storage with it.

Stored underground, meaningless as an abandoned thesis, he sat here in his little neighbourhood bar down the steps from the street, popular enough at some hours it was, but when he came in late, after the Archives had closed, it was suitably deserted, and he could sit in the corner and fall backward into lost time, drowning in history.

One night at the pub, he sees one of his female students (who he’s attracted to, but keeps to himself) with a young man. He watches them leave. A couple of days later, it becomes known that the woman is missing, and hasn’t been seen since that night. His mind swirls with thoughts about what might have happened. His feelings of inadequacy, and guilt over his attraction to her, cause him to start connecting her disappearance with himself – somehow he feels responsible.

Killing McGee is a satisfying 56 pages. Short and smart.


Skywalk, from Something for Everyone by Lisa Moore (2018)

Skywalk is the novella-length story that ends Moore’s Giller longlisted collection, Something for Everyone.

In a nutshell, it’s 83 pages of a boy and a girl on the phone together as the girl walks across the skywalk alone, late at night.

She sees the boy (who is there for a meeting with a guy on Kijiji) in the parking lot of the bar and asks him to talk to her on the phone as she crosses. There’s a rapist on the loose and she’s terrified to cross. So they have a conversation on the phone as she walks.

There are snapshots of other parts of the girl’s life. And there’s a jump to three years in the future when the  girl and boy meet again, having not spoken or seen each other since the phone call.

Now outside in the cold with this guy Dave, she found herself terrified about having to walk back in the dark. She hadn’t stayed out this late before. There were several missed calls on her phone from Gabby. She was afraid to get in a taxi. Afraid of walking in the dark spaces between the streetlights.

For all of David’s childhood there was a sign of a thermometer on the parking lot of the church with the mercury painted red and rising to show the amount of donated funding for the restoration of the church. Now it seemed to him a measurement of the fear in the city. His mother’s fear, the fear of the girls he knew, the fear on Facebook.

There’s just something about it… complete strangers, one keeping the other company on the phone to help her get through to the other side. How something insignificant can be so significant.

There’s an excellent ‘rape rant’ from pages 264 to 267. It starts with the police issuing a PSA encouraging women to stay inside after dark for their own safety.

“If they didn’t want the rapist to get them. If they didn’t want a cheekbone smashed with a fist. If they didn’t want a blade to their throat… If they didn’t want their cuts and bruises photographed… If they didn’t want to have to get themselves to the hospital… and if they didn’t want to be asked what they were doing out and how much they had to drink… if they did not want to be taken over with panic at odd moments for years, for the rest of their lives, after the assault…”

And it ends like this…

But it busted out all over social media, Don’t fucking tell us to stay inside, don’t tell women, don’t tell us that. Do you hear us? Don’t tell us that. We don’t accept it.

So why am I telling my son, at night when it’s dark, that I would rather him take the dog out than the girls?

Excellent reviews of the entire collection, Something for Everyone: Pickle Me This, Buried in PrintQuill & Quire


In Every Wave by Charles Quimper

In Every Wave is published by QC Fiction, the same publisher of one of my favourite books of the year – Songs for the Cold of Heart by Eric DuPont.

This 78 page novella is about a man who has lost his daughter while swimming one day. Narrated by the father speaking directly to his daughter, it’s about his grief and torment over her death, and about all the ways he continues to try to be near her, as the rest of his life falls apart. He goes over his memories of her when she was living, memories of the day she died, memories that are not always reliable.

If I had known you’d be with us for such a short time, I would have kept you awake every moment of it. I would have fought sleep with everything I had. If we had to sleep, it would be together in your little bed. I should have watched when you jumped off the highest diving board at the swimming pool or when you went down the big slide at the park. If I’d known, I would really have watched, instead of pretending to, instead of chatting to someone about the weather.

Sometimes the narrative is somewhat whimsical, as it might be with a father talking to his young daughter. But other times it’s melancholy, full of guilt, yearning and despair. I love the whimsy..

Maybe there’s a place where everything lost at sea winds up. I could pick you up at the flotsam and jetsam counter. A city beneath the waves populated by drowned sailors. An underwater cathedral covered in shells. Sea cucumbers growing in watery fields. A marketplace selling plankton and kelp, golden shrimp and sea lettuce by the pound.

It becomes evident that the father has begun to lose touch with reality when he fills his living room with sand to make a beach. And when he builds a boat to sail the seven seas in search of his daughter. How far will he go to find her, to be near her?

You went under, and I’ve been at sea ever since, searching for you in every wave.

In Every Wave is beautiful, poetic, and profound.

Excellent reviews of In Every Wave: Rough Ghosts, The Miramichi Reader, ANZ LitLovers LitBlog, Tredynas Days


Have you read any good novellas lately?

24 thoughts on “Novellas in November 2018

  1. Rebecca Foster says:

    I’ve enjoyed what I’ve read by Lisa Moore and would like to read more from her. I think I would also like In Every Wave. Thanks for taking part in Novellas in November! (Alarming news for all of us: December is nearly 1/3 over!)

  2. A Life in Books says:

    I’ve read so many novellas this year although not in November, perversely, probably thanks to my shadow judging stint. Of these the Quimper sounds the most appealing, if heart wrenching.

  3. Debbie Rodgers @Exurbanis says:

    Wading trepidatiously into the rape discussion . . . would one rather the police not tell women to stay inside when there are unapprehended rapists? The police can’t be everywhere. I hope that rant was directed at society in general – or the rapists themselves – because, yes, that has to change, but until it does, I still want the warning.

    • Naomi says:

      I’m sure you’re not alone in that! The rant was for society in general, I believe. And it was thought-provoking and well-done, so I wanted to highlight it.

    • Naomi says:

      I always like them when I read them, but for some reason I still tend to go for longer novels most of the time. Maybe just because there are more of them!

  4. annelogan17 says:

    Oh jeez In Every Wave would be painful to read, I’m not sure I could do it! Every parent’s greatest fear right there.

    I’m reading Lisa Moore’s collection right now and really enjoying it so far. Can’t wait to get to that last story!

  5. buriedinprint says:

    Skywalk is deftly structured, the way she pulls us in and out of time, always the touchstone back to the walkway. (Thanks, also, for the link to my review. Much appreciated!) The Helwig sounds really interesting and I cannot believe that you were waiting that long and then had it arrive just when you were looking for novellas to read! The Quimper was such a beautiful read. I was very anxious about reading it – as Anne has just said above, too – but it was worth it. Such a powerful way of dealing with the subject and so many feelings to sort through.

    • Naomi says:

      Isn’t it crazy that it showed up at just the right time?! I couldn’t *not* read it at that point!

      The Quimper was so beautiful – I couldn’t help but wonder (fleetingly, because I couldn’t bear to dwell on it) whether any of it was from personal experience…

      • buriedinprint says:

        I wondered that too, but, in another way, it felt like something one could have undertaken as a witness of another’s grieving.

        It reminded me of Chariandy’s Brother in many ways. I feel like, if Chariandy had taken another few years between novels, to further hone the prose in Brother, it could have been that length!

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