Let us sing in praise of the novella — that literary gray area between short stories and full-blown novels. Depending on who you turn to as an authority, we’re talking about books somewhere in the neighborhood of 17,000 to 40,000 words in length. But there are also some subtleties at play in determining what is and isn’t a novella.
Robert Silverberg, in the introduction to the anthology “Sailing to Byzantium,” explains it well:
“(The novella) allows for more extended development of theme and character than does the short story, without making the elaborate structural demands of the full-length book. Thus it provides an intense, detailed exploration of its subject, providing to some degree both the concentrated focus of the short story and the broad scope of the novel.”
So it’s the best of both worlds! And did you know that June is National Novella Month? This year, to celebrate, our editors took a deep dive into the dark side of the novella world and came up with some gems. Some of these authors you may recognize, while others are awaiting your discovery.
Ghosts and paranormal activity, chilling mysteries and horror-filled twists are just some of the themes of the novellas we have selected to satisfy your “spooky tooth.” And the best thing about them? They’re short enough for you to read ’em all this month!
‘The Turn of the Screw’ by Henry James (1898)
Let’s start with a classic. A young governess’s first job is not at all what she thought. Looking after two distant, silent children in a house overrun by evil forces, she realizes that something wants the children — and will stop at nothing to get them. Even more terrifying, she realizes that the children have absolutely no fear about the forces that are coming for them, even seemingly welcoming their impending end. You will surely be enthralled in this gothic-horror novella until the very last page — and too scared to check under your bed afterward.
‘The Deep’ by Rivers Solomon, Daveed Diggs, William Hutson, Jonathan Snipes (Gallery/Saga Press, 2019)
An underwater society built by water-breathing, escaped enslaved African women tossed overboard have stored their collective memories in Yetu. She is the only one who remembers their traumatic past. But these memories are destroying her, and she flees to the surface to escape them and her responsibilities. There, she learns more about her own past and about the future of her people. They must reclaim their memories and identities to survive the future in this allegorical story about intergenerational trauma.
‘Come Back to the Swamp’ by Laura Morrison (Black Spot Books, 2018)
While working on her graduate degree, Bernice is carrying out research in Cleary Swamp. Confronted by a mysterious hag who claims to be the swamp’s caretaker, Bernice has no idea that the hag is in fact mystically bonded to the swamp — and that the swamp is looking for a new host. Little does she suspect that she’s about to go on a hallucinogenic spirit journey that will change her life. A story with a combination of fantasy, sci-fi, the supernatural, and an eerie mystery, this dark novella will surely send a chill down your spine.
‘If It Bleeds’ by Stephen King (Scribner, 2020)
The title novella of this collection is a direct sequel to “The Outsider,” focusing on Holly Gibney and her detective agency. While working on the case of a missing dog, she notices that something’s not quite right with the correspondent on the late-night news after covering a school bombing. This is her first solo case, and Holly comes into her own over the course of her investigation. You’ll be immersed in this story that has all of the hallmarks of a King classic, including thrills, twists and a shocking climax.
‘The Lights Go Out in Lychford’ by Paul Cornell (Tor.com, 2019)
This tale of a vibrant town and its cast of unique characters has been described by Seanan McGuire as “Beautifully written, perfectly cruel and ultimately kind.” When a small town’s borders begin to crumble, other realities threaten to seep in. The resident wise woman, the local magic shop owner and the priest are all having troubles of their own. A mysterious stranger offers everyone a solution to their problems, supposedly with no strings attached. Is this offer too good to be true? Find out in this magic-soaked novella, part of the Witches of Lychford series.
‘Bulwark’ by Brit Lunden (Chelshire, Inc., 2017)
A small-town sheriff is busy investigating a car accident, a murder and a break-in. But when the appearance and then disappearance of a gingerbread house is added to his investigations, the oddities from his other cases all begin to confound him. In this modern, dark take on Hansel and Gretel, the fast-moving plot and constant surprises make for a gripping read. Fans of mystery and horror will not be able to put this one down until the ending. And even when you get there, you’ll have not one, but two alternatives to choose from.
‘The Ocean at the End of the Lane’ by Neil Gaiman (William Morrow, 2013)
When a man returns to his childhood home for a funeral, memories come flooding back. Recalling a young girl he met when he was seven years old sparks the ghosts of his past and brings up a mystery he has never quite figured out. Steeped in childhood memories and the nostalgia of days gone by, the real and the magical blend together seamlessly. Haunting, stirring and terrifying, this novella is all about what has to come together for us to have a truly human experience.
‘The Kingdom of This World’ by Alejo Carpentier (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2006)
After Haiti’s liberation from French rule, the new ruler’s reign brought brutality, horror and superstition. Told from the perspective of the ancient slave Ti-Noel, the story of the Western Hemisphere’s first black king depicts a regime filled with the same corruption and disregard for human life that the French possessed. In a story filled with voodoo, magic and superstition, Carpentier explores history and destiny, race and ethnicity, nature, and the cyclical essence of life itself.
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