Every four years we get an extra day to keep our human calendars synchronized with the astronomical calendar. It’s the perfect chance to catch up on your reading. To that end, here are three novellas you can read in one sitting on Leap Day!
While Leap Day isn’t a national holiday (it absolutely should be!), our extra day this Leap Year happens to fall on a Saturday. But even if you have to work on February 29, these books make such quick reads I’ll bet you can squeeze one of them in regardless.
Every genre has its novellas and novelettes, but the shorter form seems to lend itself to the surreal and experimental. As it happens, strange fiction is kinda my shtick, so I’ve chosen three of my favorite weird little novellas to highlight today.
Three novellas to read on Leap Day
The End We Start From by Megan Hunter
Megan Hunter’s debut is not a typical end-of-the-world story. The book opens just after a nameless cataclysm that has left London flooded and the population rioting. The narrator is giving birth to her first child, a boy she names Z.
The hospital, overwhelmed with the injured and dying, kicks out the new mother and her infant. The family goes to live with their in-laws, and the world devloves further into chaos. But at the same time, we witness baby Z’s growth and his mother’s delight and wonder at the small miracle of her child.
This contrast, along with the spare but powerful prose, creates an intimate portrait of a family struggling to survive amidst disaster. Hunter’s use of a circular structure (also hinted at in the title), echoes the cyclical nature of life in a poignant way.
The End We Start From was an Indie Next List Pick in November 2017, and a Barnes & Noble Discover New Writers selection in fall 2017, among other honors, for good reason. While this book is slim, every word packs a punch. Megan Hunter is a writer in full command of her prose, and you’ll find this novella difficult to put down, making it the perfect choice for Leap Day.
Northwood by Maryse Meijer
I read this novella while sitting in my noisy dentist’s waiting room. They were running late—very late—but I didn’t mind, because Maryse Meijer’s sharp, raw words enchanted me so completely. In Northwood, a woman rents a cabin in the woods to work on her art, and winds up having an affair with a married man.
The main character’s sex with this man centers around violence, blurring the line between pleasure and abuse. The story feels very much like a fairy tale, but an Angela Carter fairy tale more than even the brutal original Grimm Brothers’ versions. When the woman returns home and continues on with her life, she is haunted by this man and her time in Northwood. Her internal struggles remind us that trauma is rarely simple, and that healing is never linear, even if it’s possible.
Told in a mixture of flash fiction, poetry, and prose poems (and blurring the lines between all three even more than they already are), Northwood is another spare, haunting book that takes advantage of the novella form. The print book is also quite beautiful: the pages are black with white text, and the bright red cover certainly reminds me of blood. This is a book with teeth, a story that bites and refuses to let go.
Train Dreams by Denis Johnson
Denis Johnson’s masterful novella is a record of American myth disguised as fiction. Set in the early 1900s, it follows the life of Robert Grainier, a day laborer in the West. Grainier’s life serves as a metaphor for the West itself: beginning strong and whole, and slowly being cut down and left a shadow of its former self.
But Train Dreams isn’t the kind of book that bemoans the loss of the good old days. Instead, Johnson documents the ending of the old myths and the rising of the new: the titular train dreams that will connect America like never before and allow for explosive economic growth.
After suffering loss after loss—his job, his family, his sense of purpose and belonging—Grainier winds up alone in a burned out forest, howling with the wolves that still roam the valleys and hills. He knows the old way of life is dead, but he’s not prepared to move into the new one. Johnson’s simple, beautiful writing echoes Grainier’s state of mind, and will fill yours with images you won’t soon forget.
The novella I’m reading on Leap Day
While I would not be wasting my time to read any of these books again on February 29, I want to read something new. Serendipitously, my fellow VIDA Count volunteer Katharine Coldiron has a new book out, and it’s a surreal, beautiful novella.
The publisher, Kernpunkt Press, describes it like this, “Ceremonials is a twelve-part lyric novella inspired by Florence + the Machine’s 2011 album of the same name. It’s the story of two girls, Amelia and Corisande, who fall in love at a boarding school. Corisande dies suddenly on the eve of graduation, but Amelia cannot shake her ghost. A narrative about obsession, the Minotaur, and the veil between life and death, Ceremonials is a poem in prose, a keening in words, and a song etched in ink.”
I’ve been on a Florence + the Machine kick for a few months now, so I’m incredibly excited to dive in (and I’ve also written a book based on music, so I’m excited to see something similar but still so different from my own work).
What will you read on Leap Day? For more suggestions, check out my book list over on Bookshop!
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