I'm always a little lost in the wilderness when it comes to just what exactly is a novella. Two years ago I had a few authors that had published novellas give me their definitions but I'm afraid they were mostly a little too smart for me. I know I don't simply believe it's a word or page count. I think there's something that differentiates a novella from a long short story, and from a short novel as well--I just don't know what exactly that is.
A long-winded introduction to say that I'm not fully sure that Joseph McElroy's Preparations for Search is a novella, but it feels like it to me. Originally this material was a portion of McElroy's novel, Women and Men, that was removed. He published it rather quietly in the journal Formations in 1984. Small Anchor Press then published it as a square-bound book with some slight revisions to the text that sold out rather quickly. It has recently been published in eBook form by Dzanc Books in their rEprint Series with an introduction by Mike Heppner.
From this introduction:
In conversation with Joseph McElroy, I once described his short novel Preparations for Search in genre terms as "noir-core," in which the conventions of noir are flattened and compressed into dense, jet-black space, a gravitational singularity...There's a sense of noir in Preparations for Search as well, "noir" as defined by George Tuttle as a subcategory of hardboiled detective fiction in which "the protagonist is usually not a detective, but instead either a victim, a suspect, or a perpetrator"...One could say that McElroy, in both his novels and short fiction, invites us to become sleuths as we plunder, decode, hypothesize about and interrogate his information-rich narratives. But what makes Preparations for Search "noir-core" is McElroy's approach to tempo and tone. Here the prose is so tightly wound—the pace accelerated to two-hundred beats-per-minute—that what we're left with is the structural essence of noir without the flabby clichés.
An example of McElroy's writing, Preparations for Search begins:
It was only money, but it was quite a lot of money and I told him I felt I couldn't let him have it. Enos said he could understand. I said what he did with the money was his business, but--eleven hundred dollars to pay a detective to track down someone Enos hadn't seen since he was two? He looked me in the eye and asked if it was true that what he did with the money was his business. "What money?" I said, and he laughed and said didn't I mean whose money?
And so it begins. That last line of what I've quoted of Heppner's introduction perfectly describes McElroy's work here. The pace of the book does accelerate with the lack of excess, or cliche, that one might expect from a more standard work. It allows for a quick read, which to be honest I was very happy for as I actually immediately went back to the start to read it again as the prose is not just accelerated but simply lovely. There's a rhythm to it, a flow that is fascinating. It has me more than ready to tackle the slightly over 1000 page long Women and Men--but that will be after Novella Month is over.