One More Thing: Sto­ries and Other Sto­ries

NZ Today - - ON BOOKS - B.J. Novak Knopf; First Edi­tion

For BJ Novak a short story is ei­ther a sin­gle line or 30 pages , or any­where in be­tween. A short story is ei­ther an al­le­gor­i­cal pis­stake (the book opens with a re­match of the tor­toise vs. the hare) or a piece of New Yorker-styled satire. Or both. It’s whimsy and even if some­times flimsy it’s al­lowed to carry the ob­vi­ous mirth of David Sedaris or the some­times smug, al­ways bril­liant wordi­ness and world­li­ness of Woody Allen at his finest. It’s al­lowed, too, to be freed up, in the David Fos­ter Wal­lace way, in the Dave Eg­gers way, of play­ing out in any one par­tic­u­lar (ob­vi­ous) style or form.

Novak’s first collection of fic­tion is not his first foray into writ­ing. Though known to many for his act­ing, pro­duc­ing and di­rect­ing (The Of­fice, The Mindy Project) he has been cru­cial to the TV shows he’s worked on as a writer, some­times first and fore­most.

His ex­pe­ri­ences as a writer are more closely linked with his ex­pe­ri­ences as a reader than his act­ing work. It’s of­ten clear that he is ap­ing the Woody Allen es­says or Sedaris, that he is cir­cling around ideas that first came to him when he read them on the page. But there’s enough of Novak’s style and per­son­al­ity in these 22 sto­ries (and glimpses of sto­ries) to never ac­cuse him of any­thing pla­gia­ris­tic; it’s a fairly clear set of in­flu­ences (most of the time) and to any­one who has en­joyed Allen’s great prose pieces there’s plenty to en­joy here as a younger mind up­dates them.

Novak’s great skill here is in as­sess­ing the con­tem­po­rary world – in pok­ing fun at the so­cial me­dia ob­ses­sions, at ex­plor­ing the nar­cis­sism that runs so deep. Many of the sto­ries here feel like glimpses of what could go on to be­come a film, an idea for a TV se­ries, his act­ing in­stincts, and di­rect­ing in­stincts do, in that sense, help him in the way he tells a tale.

From be­ing con­stantly side­tracked when lis­ten­ing to a friend named Wikipedia through to ta­bles turn­ing on planned in­ter­ven­tions, from cruel mono­logues to com­pas­sion­ate char­ac­ter stud­ies Novak some­times daz­zles, al­ways ap­pears to be hav­ing fun and never fobs off the story as ever just an ex­er­cise. These pieces mean some­thing to him. And most of them should hit – and stick – with the reader. He’s a great talent. And this isn’t just a van­ity project, this isn’t ac­tor-seek­ing-side­line, it’s Novak es­sen­tially re­turn­ing to his roots – writ­ing – fol­low­ing his pas­sion, ex­plor­ing his craft through an area of in­ter­est. I look for­ward, al­ready, to his sec­ond book.

Si­mon Sweet­man

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