BRAWNY brevity

Ac­tor’s hi­lar­i­ous de­but collection ideal for the Twit­ter age

Winnipeg Free Press - Section G - - BOOKS - Re­viewed by Jen Zoratti

WITH One More Thing: Sto­ries and Other Sto­ries, B.J. Novak — most fa­mous for his work on The Of­fice as ac­tor, writer, di­rec­tor and ex­ec­u­tive pro­ducer — es­tab­lishes him­self as a fresh new lit­er­ary voice, thanks to his won­der­fully off-kil­ter imag­i­na­tion and wry, au courant ob­ser­va­tional hu­mour. In­deed, Novak’s smart, hi­lar­i­ous de­but is aimed squarely at the Twit­ter and In­sta­gram gen­er­a­tion. A few crit­ics, in­clud­ing the New York Times’ Michiko Kaku­tani, have pointed out that Novak dis­plays a finely tuned ear for the com­mon ver­nac­u­lar not un­like the pro­tag­o­nist of the book’s fi­nal story, a poet named J.C. Aude­tat. He ends up find­ing fame (but not ful­fil­ment) as a trans­la­tor of lit­er­ary clas­sics — in­clud­ing a semi-con­tro­ver­sial English-to-English trans­la­tion of The Great Gatsby — af­ter he par­tic­u­larly nails it with a 21st-century up­date of Don Quixote. Novak’s true gift doesn’t lie in his knack for writ­ing “how people talk,” but rather in his abil­ity to put him­self in the shoes of the most un­likely pro­tag­o­nists, from John Gr­isham — whose lat­est best­seller goes to print with a truly un­for­tu­nate work­ing ti­tle — to the man who au­thored Amer­ica’s most beau­ti­ful, but most bas­tardized, math prob­lem: “A man leaves Chicago at 12 p.m. on a train...” In The Re­match, he imag­ines an ob­sessed hare as he fi­nally faces off against the tor­toise who ru­ined his life in an “ath­letic hu­mil­i­a­tion on an un­prece­dented scale.” In No One Goes to Heaven to See Dan Fo­gel­berg, we meet a guy who puts off a visit to his grand­mother in heaven due to the overwhelming num­ber of live mu­sic op­tions that lie be­yond the pearly gates. A keen ob­server of the hu­man con­di­tion, Novak rec­og­nizes we live on the In­ter­net. Wikipedia Brown and the Case of the Miss­ing Bi­cy­cle sends up the time-suck­ing In­ter­net black holes we all find our­selves in. “‘Wait, let’s not get dis­tracted,’ said Sally. ‘Ev­ery time we talk to Wikipedia Brown, we get dis­tracted. We spend hours and hours with him, and al­ways for­get what we were sup­posed to in­ves­ti­gate in the first place.’ ”

It’s poignant, too; The ManM Who Posted Pic­tures of Ev­ery­thing He Ate is a com­ment on iso­la­tiont de­spite our hy­per­con­nec­tiv­ity,c while One of Th­e­seT Days, We Have To Do Some­thing About Wil­lie deals with the chal­lenges of stag­ing an in­ter­ven­tion based on trou­bling Face­book posts, a re­minder that no­body’s life is as it seems. The book is punc­tu­ated with shorter mus­ings. Kind­ness Among Cakes is a two-liner: CHILD: Why does car­rot cake have the best ic­ing? MOTHER: Be­cause it needs the best ic­ing. Some might view these as un­fin­ished, un­der­de­vel­oped thoughts, but they of­fer a glimpse into a com­edy writer’s cre­ative process. One gets the feel­ing that they’ve stum­bled upon a raw, un­fil­tered idea for a com­edy bit, hastily scrib­bled on a bed­side nap­kin in the mid­dle of the night. There’s a snap-crackle-and-pop spon­tane­ity to Novak’s prose; his gems are never buffed to a sheen. And in an era in which com­edy ca­reers are launched 140 char­ac­ters at a time, he un­der­stands the value of econ­omy. Brevity is the soul of wit, and all that. Still, Novak shows real prom­ise as a long-form fic­tion writer. One More Thing’s pièce de ré­sis­tance is a story called Kel­logg’s (or: The Last Whole­some Fan­tasy of the Mid­dleSchool Boy). It’s about a kid who wins $100,000 in a box of con­tra­band Frosted Flakes (his par­ents are the agave-syrup type) — only to learn that claim­ing his prize might have dire con­se­quences. Some sto­ries are stronger — and, yes, fun­nier — than oth­ers, but on the whole, this is an in­cred­i­bly strong de­but from an ex­cit­ing new voice. Jen Zoratti is an arts and life re­porter

at the Free Press.

One More Thing: Sto­ries and Other

Sto­ries

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