Novella

NORTHWOOD

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NORTHWOOD BY MARYSE MEIJER

Northwood by Maryse Meijer explores the ebb and flow of a violent affair effervescing from a cabin in the woods. Written in nonlinear verse, various sections capture the intimate process of the delusions, realizations, and recovery that typically tracks destructive love. The novel follows a relationship that culminates after the summer solstice and the protagonist returns to normalcy by marrying a different man. Notable for its emotional intensity and apt descriptions of attachment, this novella follows on the heels of Meijer’s Heartbreaker, a collection of stories striking for similar weight: the balanced expression of hard-to-handle truths on a blurred line of prosetry. In Northwood, readers are pulled into a tumultuous relationship with phrases that probe a contained emotional history, to evoke a pathos that lasts the length of the novella. “How wealthy I was, how fragile, how strong like the strange / skin of a bubble that can resist so much and then / nothing at all.” The vulnerability, slicing for its exposition and lyricism, sweeps us in; we cannot refuse reading, returning, and reflecting.

Catapult.

— Review by Kaitlyn Yates

CAMELLIA STREET

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CAMELLIA STREET BY MERCÈ RODOREDA, TRANSLATED BY DAVID ROSENTHAL

Mercè Rodoreda’s Camellia Street is a study in whiplash. Though first released in Catalonia in 1966, the book remains sharply resonant and intimately relatable today to any woman who has ever felt herself apart, numbed by life’s vicissitudes even as she finds sweetness in them—any woman “trapped alive,” as narrator Cecília notes, “in a piece of candy.” In less than 200 pages, Cecília charts her history: how she was discovered as a foundling, how she abandoned home to live first with her young love Eusebi in a shantytown, then with a stream of various men solicited on street corners, in cafés, through friends. Though fraught with loss and near-constant uncertainty, Cecília’s past as she tells it is one of relatively little emotion. Buoyed as much by own hard shell, her own stark remove as the sensory details of post-war Barcelona—a bejeweled silk dress stitched by nuns, a wooden angel with hands removed, bluebells planted then crushed between fingers, the velvety ferns in a café, the lime-flower tea—she flits from one café to the next, one man to the next, finding herself installed in one apartment after another in detached fits and starts.

If she is dream or doll to the men she encounters, Cecília is fully real to us readers, made vivid through Rodoreda’s careful attention to details both sensory and strange, and often grim; “. . . how the moon,” Cecília muses, “was gnawed by termites with worms in all holes, like corpses in burial niches.” In this regard, Cecília’s sense of remove only serves to make her feel all the more human; her detachment a survival mechanism as hard and cold and necessary as the stone benches she sits on when she works Las Ramblas. Though, as translator David H. Rosenthal astutely notes in his introduction, “[t]he parallels between her inner life and the disoriented, catatonic Barcelona of the 1940s and 1950s are striking . . . Rodoreda never presses the point.” Indeed, what’s most brilliant about this book is its myopic lens; its keen ability to peer narrowly, vainly, self-absorbedly outwards through a wonderfully crafted mind.

Open Letter.

— Review by Elizabeth DeMeo

DEATH AND OTHER HOLIDAYS

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DEATH AND OTHER HOLIDAYS BY MARCI VOGEL

Marci Vogel’s Death and Other Holidays, the inaugural winner of the Miami Book Fair / Degroot Novella Prize, is a tour de force that comprises a year in the life of April, a painfully average woman who grapples with the vicissitudes of young adulthood after the death of her beloved stepfather. Composed of gorgeous vignettes that chronicle April’s trials and tribulations in 1990s Los Angeles, Death and Other Holidays is raw, honest, and darkly humorous. Vogel’s tight prose reads like something of a diary by its immediacy, capturing the inner workings of April’s mind, and speaks to the aching young adult in all of us. From one section, April recalls a science experiment where researchers measure molecules before and after having people watch them, and they find that the molecules have changed. “Something as minor as taking pictures changes the world, at least on a molecular level,” writes April. Here, too, readers who watch as Vogel’s endearing protagonist battles death and young adulthood will most certainly find themselves changed.

Melville House.

— Review by Hiba Tahir

THE GOVERNESSES

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THE GOVERNESSES BY ANNE SERRE, TRANSLATED BY MARK HUTCHINSON

Mark Hutchinson’s translation of Anne Serre’s elegant French novella, The Governesses, brims with restless energy and fairy-tale eroticism. Addictively sensual and subtly violent, the titular trio of governesses emotionally manipulate the house staff, ignore their pupils, and devour handsome strangers who wander to their gates. They perform for the old man watching them through his telescope, always aware of his gaze. Stunning, selfish, and seemingly ageless, like baroque sculptures come to life, the governesses explore the house’s enchanted, endless gardens, packed with every place and experience that they’ve ever known, and explore their sexual and romantic power over those around them.

In her simple, elegant style, Serre often directly invites the reader into her carefully crafted, waking dream world, and shows us all the contradicting sides of these women, their strengths in the strangeness of their world and in their own exceptional loveliness, as well as their weaknesses when the realities of the outside world invade their home. Like the book itself, they are at times frenzied, while at others, they turn dark and sweet, never fully forming, never submitting to capture. Anne Serre’s debut in English, The Governesses is exhilarating and hedonistic, an enchantingly dark French fable that delights to the last line.

New Directions.

—Review by Claire Pincumbe

AN UNTOUCHED HOUSE

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AN UNTOUCHED HOUSE BY WILLEM FREDEIK HERMANS, TRANSLATED BY DAVID COLMER

Willem Frederik Hermans’ An Untouched House provides a wrenching glimpse of a Dutch soldier’s experience several years into World War II. The atmosphere of the novella is surreal in its believable disorientation. The sparse but precise prose captures a sense of desolation, a meaninglessness at the heart of the war that emerges in innumerable casual atrocities, from murder to the destruction of art. The unnamed narrator’s psychological trauma manifests as confusion and resignation layered over his raw and equally unnamable longing. “I no longer knew how tennis was played,” he relates. “I didn’t know what the net, the white lines, the tall white chair, that heavy roller in the corner meant.”

The narrator attempts to reconcile barbarity with the veneer of civilization that he discovers in a remarkably, almost miraculously, untouched house in the middle of a bombarded European town. Inside the house are wonders foreign to the narrator—lush furs, a piano, hot water. How can such a place exist? As the narrator unravels the mysteries of the house, the truths he learns are neither reassuring nor beautiful. The line between war and culture, violence and peace, is indistinct, an illusion ultimately incapable of concealing the interdependence of the two, and the artificiality of our loyalty to either.

Archipelago.

—Review by Sara Ramey

MYCOLOGY

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MYCOLOGY, BY JOAN WILKING

Joan Wilking’s Mycology is a thriving ecosystem. In this keenly imagined and fully realized novella, the winner of Curbside Splendor’s Second Annual Wild Onion Novella Contest, the lives of three characters—blue eyed, golden haired Luca, a handsome young man grappling with his past; clever, introspective Charlotte, a career driven photographer; and Martin, a successful composer and burgeoning mycologist trapped in a failing relationship—flourish separately and then together as they weather the expected (their artistic careers, their romances, their past selves…) and the unforeseen: the height of the AIDS epidemic in America.

Like the oak tree that falls at the opening of the book, spawning the growth of poisonous mushrooms, the characters’ interrelationships spawn resilience and temptation. In short, vivid chapters Luca, Charlotte, and Martin are pushed and tested by loss, indecision, curiosity, and memory; they emerge, over the course of the novella, as luminous and real people, each as bright and raw as the red of a scarlet cup mushroom. Wilking’s sharp prose and striking images brim with life and reflect back her characters (she describes for instance, “a pine tree, still standing, split and charred by a lightning strike”) even as her plot burns and poisons, creating for readers a field guide for not only how to find chanterelles but how to fight one’s way through adult life and its curveballs. Indeed, Wilking’s fine book is an ideal read for anyone looking to study not only the natural world, but the mycology of the human mind: the lethal, the surprising, the wondrous.

Curbside Splendor.

MISSIVES FROM THE GREEN CAMPAIGN

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MISSIVES FROM THE GREEN CAMPAIGN, BY DAVID ARMSTRONG

Missives from the Green Campaign provides glimpses of a world in which the purpose of war is environmental preservation. While many of the rituals of army life remain the same, from hazing to the power dynamics of an authoritarian hierarchy, the conceptual twist of the chapbook is that each soldier must nurture a plant whose survival is intrinsic to his own. The first-person narrator’s drive to nourish is sometimes more destructive than helpful, leading him to adopt a hapless comrade and amateur philosopher, Hershel, who struggles with the rigidity of military life.

David Armstrong shorts world-building and character development in favor of exclusionary details and inventive language. Lying in their bunks at night, the narrator says of Hershel: “I heard him shift on his cot in the darkness, saw out of the corner of my eye the moon-grown obscurities of his rumpled blanket reforming.” The story’s dialogue and cultural associations best convey the wistfulness of its reflections, while the frequent use of blank space, created by truncated chapters and minimalist scene descriptions, amplifies the somber mood. Subtle moments carry much of the story’s emotional weight, as when one chapter ends, “I kept my lily hidden, safe, in the darkness near my heart.”

Omnidawn.

— Review by Sara Ramey