By **Rebecca Bates**
Earlier this month, I was directed, via our fiction editor’s Twitter, to an article in the The Daily Beast about the state of the novella. The writer argues that while it’s “fashionable” to think of the novella as “the ugly duckling of the literary world,” the form is actually alive and well, its “discursive” nature fostered through such efforts as The Art of the Novella series (put out by Melville House Publishing). I confess that, being the fashionable girl that I am, I have long been a novella-status-lamenter. But The Art of the Novella series, however kitschy the pocket-sized editions may be, has reestablished the form for me as relevant and timely.
I recently finished Lucinella by Lore Segal, one such book in Melville House’s series that, while written in the nineteen seventies, has only reemerged within the last year. Lucinella details the cerebral misadventures of its titular character, a female poet whose literati cohorts range from the fresh-faced, emerging writer to the aging Pulitzer winner. Lucinella is at once empowered and weak; she feels ecstatic, manic even, at the thought of her own talent, yet crippled by an acute fear of anonymity and oblivion. In one of the book’s final scenes, Lucinella throws a party to celebrate the recent publication of a friend’s poetry collection and soon comes to an unsettling epiphany: “And this is the moment when it hits me: I haven’t read Betterwheatling’s new book. Nor any of his other books either! As I stand in amazement, staring into Betterwheatling’s face, I can tell…that Betterwheatling has never read a line I have written either.”
It is this horror, this fear of being forgotten, that keeps Lucinella fresh, especially for me as a hopeful, budding writer. As writers we all want people to find our shit readable, we all want others to pick up our work again and again, and I’m sure I’m not the only one afraid of growing old without anyone having heard of me. The same is true for the characters of Lucinella. During the novella’s first party scene, Lucinella listens to the anxieties of a twenty year-old poet simply referred to as “young Lucinella,” all the while watching as a haggard “old Lucinella” stands alone in a corner. These three versions of the same self embody what I think must be the universal and timeless plights of the writer: the anxiety over one’s past, the ambivalence of the future, and the terror of the status quo.
Rebecca Bates is a blogger at Guernica. Read her last post “here”:https://www.guernicamag.com/blog/1907/rebecca_bates/.