& Review: One More Thing by B.J. Novak

One More Thing by B.J. Novak. Fiction. Publisher: Vintage

One More Thing by B.J. Novak. Fiction. Publisher: Vintage

The Book Itself: It stands out for it’s crazy lack-of-cover cover. It’s a white background. Scrawled title. It is difficult to keep this book clean (smudgy fingerprints and wear from sliding in and out of a purse already mar my copy), but it does make the book more intriguing. What’s it about? Was there no cover perfect/poignant/adequate enough to capture the essence of these stories??

My Review: B.J. Novak’s One More Thing: Stories and Other Stories is an endlessly entertaining, surprisingly sensitive, and startlingly original debut that signals the arrival of a brilliant new voice in American fiction.

A boy wins a $100,000 prize in a box of Frosted Flakes—only to discover how claiming the winnings might unravel his family. A woman sets out to seduce motivational speaker Tony Robbins—turning for help to the famed motivator himself. A new arrival in Heaven, overwhelmed with options, procrastinates over a long-ago promise to visit his grandmother. We also meet Sophia, the first artificially intelligent being capable of love, who falls for a man who might not be ready for it himself; a vengeance-minded hare, obsessed with scoring a rematch against the tortoise who ruined his life; and post-college friends who try to figure out how to host an intervention in the era of Facebook.  Along the way, we learn why wearing a red T-shirt every day is the key to finding love, how February got its name, and why the stock market is sometimes just . . . down.

Finding inspiration in questions from the nature of perfection to the icing on carrot cake, One More Thing has at its heart the most human of phenomena: love, fear, hope, ambition, and the inner stirring for the one elusive element that might just make a person complete. Across a dazzling range of subjects, themes, tones, and narrative voices, the many pieces in this collection are like nothing else, but they have one thing in common: they share the playful humor, deep heart, sharp eye, inquisitive mind, and altogether electrifying spirit of a writer with a fierce devotion to the entertainment of the reader.

Woah. That’s one doozy of a synopsis.

This is perhaps one of the most eclectic short story collections I’ve read. There were one sentence stories, ten page stories, straight fiction pieces, and magical realism.

But it felt like quantity over quality. There are 64 stories here. Sixty. Four. That’s a lot. A bunch are flash fiction. Really brief, bites of stories. And shorter did not mean better. For the most part, stories a page or less were not deep, meaningful, or even funny. They seemed like fluff, like filler material.

I did like a few pieces, mainly:

The Something by John Grisham” — John Grisham, the famous author, wakes to news that his latest book reached the bestseller list. Except…it gets published with the placeholder title. A funny take on fame and how a writer’s/artist’s intentions and true wishes get squashed sometimes.

“All You Have to Do” and “Missed Connection: Grocery spill at 21st and 6th 2:30 pm on Wednesday” — Several of B.J. Novak’s stories are interconnected. The subject of “The Girl Who Gave Great Advice” returns in a different story as a friend of a different protagonist. These two interconnected pieces made me go “awwww,” aloud. You don’t realize they’re connected until the end of the second piece. And it makes you smile 🙂

“Sophia” — A man orders a sex robot, and returns it when it falls in love with him. No joke. It sounds tawdry, but it’s actually quite touching and heart-wrenching. Is he also in love with his sex robot/”Sophia”? How did Sophia learn to love? Could it ever be a thing that lasts? The last line makes you want to weep a little.

“The Best Thing in the World Awards” — The tale of a fictional awards show emceed by none other than Neil Patrick Harris. The nominees? Nice feelings like love and kindness and charity. This year’s surprise contender? Nothing. A surprisingly chilling, interesting look at how we look at and evaluate what we consider “the best” of things.

Most of the other stories weren’t so memorable. I read the table of contents now, and I couldn’t tell you what half of them entailed. So, overall, a great many forgettable pieces, and only a few really poignant ones that felt like they were aiming for something.

Many of them felt kind of like Novak heard a phrase and then concocted a bizarre, pithy flash fiction piece about it. Example: “the stock market is down.” Why is the stock market so depressed? Why doesn’t someone cheer it up? “Why is February spelled the way it is?” The guy who invented the calendar just made a typo.

Overall, an uneven, cluttered collection with a few shining points.

My Grade: C

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