What do a hare bent on revenge, a missed connection, a warlord, sugary cereals, and “the world’s biggest rip-off” have in common?
Not much unless you include B.J. Novak’s apparent interest in them. When I picked up One More Thing I thought I knew what I was getting myself into. I expected a collection of memoirist essays, akin to the work of Mindy Kaling or Tiny Fey. I was in no way prepared for what I found.
At first glance this collection of stories is the hyperactive child of the book world. Novak keeps his stories short, sweet, and to the point, moving quickly from one to the next without a second thought. On the one hand, that makes this collection a quick and easy read, but on the other it creates a disjointed flow, and I had a hard time feeling particularly attached to the book as I read. The freedom of an essay collection is the ease of which you can pick up the book and start reading from anywhere; but I prefer to read my books straight through, and the stories were so radically different from one another that I never felt like I was reading one author’s work.
That being said, there are some stories in here that just straight up rock. There were stories that had me practically out of my seat from laughing so hard, stories that made me tear up, and even some that left me with a lot to think about.
Because they’re are so many stories, I’ll briefly highlight a few of my favorites:
The Rematch: A twisting sequel to The Tortoise and the Hare, in which the Hare demands a rematch.
The Man Who Invented the Calendar: This one was so clever and original! It made me laugh, the voice was wry and interesting and I thought, “wow, this is great” after every line.
Closure: Every broken-hearted person’s fantasy. The ending will kill you.
If I Had a Nickel: What would happen if you had a nickel for every time you did something? This story explores exactly what would happen, and it’s brilliant.
Never Fall in Love: This was a surprisingly sweet story about, well, love obviously.
A New Hitler: “Let’s have a new hitler” said no one ever, until now. This story isn’t what it seems.
The collection included a few attempts at poetry, which I’m going to showcase here.
The Literalist’s Love Poem:
“Roses are rose.
Violets are violet.
I love you.”
If You Love Something:
“If you love something, let it go.
If you don’t love something, definitely let it go.
Basically, just drop everything, who cares.”
Despite the fact that most of his stories aren’t more than a page or two, I thought Novak’s talent shone particularly bright during his longer stories. Kellogg’s (or: The Last Wholesome Fantasy of the Middle-School Boy), One of These Days, We Have to Do Something About Willie were in turns entertaining and somber, surprising and thought-provoking. The Best Thing in the World Awards and Constructive Criticism were contemporary, hilarious, and intriguing. And J.C. Audetat, Translator of Don Quixote was perhaps, the best story in the collection (and I believe the longest). It was the perfect ending, full of beautiful prose, twists and the markings of wry recollection that seems to showcase Novak’s favorite narrative voice.
Unfortunately, I found only about a third of the stories enchanting. At least a third were, in my opinion, vulgar for no reason and pointless, while another third were just dull and uninteresting. Novak’s at his best when he isn’t trying – the stories with more convoluted plot tropes were the ones that fell flat, most noticeably Dark Matter and Sophia, both of which seemed to be trying to get a reaction instead of just telling a good story. The little nuances set Novak apart from the hundreds of other writers on the market – he’s great at connecting the dots between stories, as in the case of All You Have to Do and Missed Connection. The moments when I’d recognize something in one story from a previous story never failed to elicit a smile from me.
The stories that were good were worth far and beyond the sticker price, but this collection could use some major reduction and polishing to better show off Novak’s obvious talent.
Rating: 6.5/10 (The stories I loved would all get 20/10, but as I only felt that way about 22 of the 63 stories I think a 6.5 shows how much weight I’m giving those stories that I liked).
Overall Reaction: While reading a particularly brilliant story, “Why can’t all the stories be like this?!?!?!”
Up Next Week: Hyperbole and a Half by Allie Brosh