Somewhere along the way I got the impression that the fundamental property of a novella isn’t its brevity, or that it’s stuck somewhere between a story and a novel, but that it’s this: a novella wrestles with the worst day of a protagonist’s life. I like the German tradition in novellen that the story comes to a surprising but logical end, which for me as a writer means I need to convince the reader there is no other possible outcome than the ending we arrive at together.
You’ll read a lot of different definitions of novellas, mainly about word length (10,000 to 50,000 words by some accounts, shorter or longer by others), but for me, the novella, like a poem, loves a turn, tastes its words as it delivers them, and lasts in the mind long after the book is closed.
This selection of Canadian works is short on novellas but each one is novella-ish in its love of language, its unforgettable characters, or its inarguable nature—some of these read like ur-texts, like they’ve always existed and we were lucky enough to find them washed up intact onshore.
One aspect or another of each of these books echoes a …
Richard Cumyn's latest book is The Sign for Migrant Soul, and in this list he spotlights other great story collections and novellas.
Whenever I can, I try to shine a light on the short form in this country, to give the slim but sinewy book its due. Canadians have always written outstanding short and long stories. Women and LGBTQ writers are leading the way, expanding the form stylistically and exploring the literary potential of a structure that demands precision, efficiency, original expression and an uncanny third eye for the way people can be complex, unpredictable beings. You have to pay attention when you’re reading a well-written short-story or novella. The effect can be long lasting and transformative.
This is by no means a best-of list or anything close to comprehensive. It’s an idiosyncratic compilation of ten recent short-story collections and novellas I think deserve attention. It’s guilty of bias, favouritism, myopia, relative illiteracy—you name it. It’s exclusive out of ignorance and serendipity rather than malice. Some of these titles are books I’ve reviewed, liked and hung on to. Some were written by friends. We tend to find and recognize each other; it’s still a small community.