Novellas in November 2019

Outcast by Darren Greer

Tyler is an art student living in Toronto with his friend Randy. Randy is not the easiest guy to live with, but the two of them are inseparable. One thing about Randy is that he’s smart – beyond smart, brilliant. Which comes in handy when Tyler starts getting weird messages in his email.

Randy claims to have seen this type of thing before – he’s read about it. It’s an elaborate internet game, like a puzzle, with clues. Randy encourages Tyler to play, and helps him solve the clues.

Throughout the book, the reader hears a lot about Randy and the things he’s said to Tyler over the course of their friendship.

Randy often said that in a world where information is the most valuable commodity and everyone has something to hide, the most important mathematical science of the future was cryptography.

Randy was a visionary, and a futurist. He was good at looking at what was and telling you what could be.

Randy claimed that since the world was going virtual and digital, men could become omnipotent simply by learning the right kind of programming… “Wanna send a message to change someone’s life? Do it electronically, then manipulate his environment to match the data. This is what gods do.”

“We all have the capability of being Nietzsche’s superman,” Randy once told me. “Or Dostoyevsky’s superior man. He is superior, not because he’s smarter, but because he’s more expansive. Everything is a possibility for him, and he doesn’t limit himself or others with reason.”

When the person behind this ‘game’ starts sending information about Tyler’s missing brother, he starts to suspect this is more than a game.

Randy said once that hope was a pernicious virtue designed to obfuscate the reality of your situation.

Eerie, complicated yet rewarding. this story is highly creative and will keep you thinking.

 

Convenience Store Woman by Sayaka Murata, translated by Ginny Tapley Takemori

What a cute, unusual little book.

As an 18-year-old student, Keiko applies to work at a convenience store just opening up. And nineteen years later, she’s still there.

A convenience store is a world of sound. From the tinkle of the door chime to the voices of TV celebrities advertising new products over the in-store cable network, to the calls of the store workers, the beeps of the bar code scanner, the rustle of customers picking up items and placing them in baskets, and the clacking of heels walking around the store. It all blends into the convenience store sound that ceaselessly caresses my eardrums.

Keiko thrives on the routine, knows what needs to be done before it needs doing. She muses about how the convenience store is a part of her – in her, even, as she breathes its air and eats food she buys there. She spends her off hours keeping in shape, eating nutritiously, and getting enough sleep just in order to be at her best for work.

Keiko grew up in a loving family, but a family who has always worried about her ‘differences’. She couldn’t understand what she was doing wrong, but eventually learned to mimic others in order to fit in better. Still, her friends think it’s odd (and distressful) that she’s mid-thirties, unmarried and still working at a convenience store. There’s a lot of pressure on her to get married or to find a new job. She knows her friends and family would be happier if she lived a “normal” life, but can she change? Does she want to?

The normal world has no room for exceptions and always quietly eliminates foreign objects. Anyone who is lacking is disposed of. / So that’s why I need to be cured. Unless I’m cured, normal people will expurgate me. / Finally I understood why my family had tried so hard to fix me.

 

The Last Hockey Player by Bretton Loney

Hockey again? Not really, no. A post-apocalyptic story about a man searching for his family he hasn’t seen since before the “The Crumbling”. On death’s door, after having walked alone for more than a year, he comes across a village of survivors who take him in until he’s ready to move on.

I blow out the candle above our sleeping ledge and ponder the meaning of this stranger’s arrival. He has stirred my memory. You almost forget that once there were streetlights, waterproof coats and hot baths instead of the swallowing darkness of a winter forest, greased animal skin cloaks to cut the biting cold and, if you’re lucky, a pail of cold water to wash your face. It is depressing to remember what once was, and dangerous too. To stay strong it is best to try and forget the old life.

“Hockey Player”, which is what they call him, has a chip on his shoulder, and chafes up against some of the villagers, while others are happy to have him around. Having been a professional hockey player in the past, he takes an interest in helping to coach the village’s small hockey team. Hockey is one way the villages have of staying connected.

The story is narrated, alternately, by Brittany who is The Teacher (second in authority to The Leader); The Apprentice, a thirteen-year-old boy who is learning everything he can from Brittany; and Hockey Player. This gives us several perspectives on Hockey Player’s impact on the village, as well as on what’s going on between the villagers.

Although the story may sound bleak, it’s lifted up by the author’s light touch and his many references to Canada and “what defines Canadians no matter what”. For example: The next village over is called TimHortons and is “built beside a sign that is tall as an old pine and wide as the river. It has a faded picture of a smiling woman who holds a cup that the grey ones say is a drink called coffee“; the library has books such as “Edible and Medicinal Plants of Canada“, “Hiking Trails of Nova Scotia“, “Out of Old Nova Scotia Kitchens” and the Canadian Tire and Lee Valley catalogues (not to mention “The Da Vinci Code” and “Fifty Shades of Grey“); a hockey player named Neil-Young, a cat named Atwood, and of course hockey.

One thing that post-apocalyptic novels re-enforce again and again is that to survive there needs to be human connection and cooperation. Will Hockey Player learn this lesson before it’s too late?

 

The Glace Bay Miners’ Museum by Sheldon Currie

Well, it’s about time I read this book. (Thanks to BIP for the nudge!)

The first time I ever saw the bugger, I thought to myself, him as big as he is, me as small as I am, if he was astraddle on the road, naked, I could walk under him without a hair touching.

“Him”, being Neil Currie. “Me/I” being Margaret, the narrator of the story. Her story. Margaret and Neil’s love story takes place against the backdrop of a Cape Breton mining community. Margaret has already lost her father and brother to the pit. She does not want to lose her husband, too.

What makes this book special is Margaret’s voice. Unfiltered and honest, she tells it like it is. On the surface she seems matter-of-fact about her bleak reality, but underneath, her mind is troubled, hurt, at its wit’s end.

… I screwed a couple of boys when I was a little girl. I didn’t know you weren’t supposed to, but I didn’t want to anyway, and I wouldn’t but this fella offered me a nickel and I never had a nickel.

I was glad Neil talked so much, because he never noticed that I never had much to say, naturally, because I didn’t know anything, except what I learned in school, and all I could remember of that was that the square on the long side of a right-angled triangle is equal to the sum of the squares on the other two sides, and believe it or not, the situation doesn’t come up too often where it seems the right thing to blurt that out.

He could talk, my grandfather, but he didn’t. It hurt him to talk after he came back from the hospital once with his lungs and he quit. I don’t know if it got better or not because he never tried again; same as he quit walking after he got out of breath once from it. He took to writing notes. He had a scribbler and a pencil by him and he wrote what he wanted: “Thump me chest; dinner; beer; water; piss pot; did she win; did you pay the lite bill; then put on the lites; piece of bread; ask the priest to come; time to go now father; I have to get me thump. No, Ian’ll do it.” See, that’s just one page. He had a whole stack of scribblers after a while. They’re all here. We have them numbered.

You’ll have to read it to find out how a museum plays into it all. You won’t be sorry.

Have you read any good novellas lately?

 

11 thoughts on “Novellas in November 2019

  1. lauratfrey says:

    Okay… what’s with the Helena Bohnam Carter movie adaptation?? Have you watched it? The trailer is very 90s. “I could walk under him without a hair touching” is a good line 🙂

    I keep forgetting that Convenience Store Woman is a novella…

    • Naomi says:

      I haven’t actually seen the movie! I wonder how easy it would be to find a good quality copy of it? Hmm… the library has a few. Maybe I’ll watch it over the holidays. The movie is called “Margaret’s Museum” – I keep forgetting that. Also, it’s hard to find a copy of the book that doesn’t have Helena Bohnam Carter on the cover!

  2. wadholloway says:

    I was hoping Outcast (ie your review) would go on longer, I was really enjoying it. And, unlike Margaret in the last story, I often find it handy to know things like the square on the hypoteneuse. It means you can work out stuff in your head (people used to once, before calculators).

    • Naomi says:

      I like being able to work stuff out in my head, too. When I was little I used to play dominoes with my grandfather, and he always made me do the calculations in my head.

      Outcast is so complicated that I was happy to stop writing about it. But, thank you! 🙂

  3. buriedinprint says:

    I read Audrée Wilhelmy’s The Body of the Beasts (pub by Anansi, trans by Susan Ouriou) recently and it was quite affecting. Kind of like Marie-Claire Blais, with a note of wildness. Kind of like Michael Crummey for the sense of family in a desolate landscape and their relationships with the world around them. It’s got a fairy-tale like feel to it. But old-style fairy tales – the dark, not-Disney, versions! Whenever I’m browsing in the library, I feel like I come across so many interesting novellas, and I’d like to make a little project of reading them sometime! Ooooh, yes, I’m so happy you enjoyed the Currie novella. And the film is so beautifully done. The score too.

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