I’m going to be forthright: I’m not a huge fan of giant novels. I should couple this with the fact that I desperately want to like long novels, spanning 600+ pages of an author’s world and story. However, I’ve found that where the gargantuan tome of a novel succeeds critically, the short indie novella often gets forgotten in the throngs of popular fiction. I’m interested in discovering quirky short novels by emerging authors, though sometimes I uncover an experimental one-shot from a more established novelist.
In this case, a recent venture to the new arrivals shelf of my local community college’s library brought me to Canadian novelist Joey Comeau’s “Malagash.” In sum, the book follows Sunday, a teenage girl with a penchant for technology (specifically computers), and her family’s return to Malagash, Nova Scotia, the childhood home of her father, who is dying of terminal cancer. There, Sunday’s plan, along with her little brother, is to record everything their father says: his stories, bad jokes, random sayings, and conversations with their mother. Her intent, though, is to compile all the recordings on her computer and create a supervirus that will pervade around the globe. Why? Because she wants her father to be remembered, for his legacy to be captured truthfully.
“Malagash” is a soft 184 pages, and took me about three sittings to dash through. Though Comeau’s prose is fairly minimalistic and quick, the impact of the main concept of the novel was not lost on me. Tonally, he’s got it down; “Malagash” is a dour book, rife with mourning, but cutting through all the emotional gravity is Sunday’s father. He’s accepted his death/dying rather gracefully, and despite the tension between Sunday, her brother, and her mother, it’s their father who functions as the pillar of humor and stability for the family.
Despite the purposeful briefness of “Malagash,” it’s a book with very little plot. Sunday’s main motivation of turning her father’s audio into a computer virus doesn’t fully come into view until the very end, which made it feel like there wasn’t much urgency to the book. The dialogue operates mostly on spending time with her father, but when the narrative drifts away from scene, we’re stuck inside Sunday’s head. Although she’s the best developmental character to narrate the book, she’s also incredibly repetitive. “Malagash” hops from 2-5 page chapters (that’s how rapidly it reads), many of which feel like Sunday just repeating the reasons why she doesn’t want her father to die.
The problem I’ve noticed with short novels/novellas in the same vein as “Malagash” is that their concept often overrides the span of the book. But by the time I’m even 40 pages in, I really can’t turn back. Perhaps the problem is in my inherent draw to short works like Comeau’s “Malagash” because they’re concise and concealed into one tight thought. Whether the book is good or lacking, I’ll still be wanting more. Yet I keep coming back to the short novel, much like I do for short story collections. And I know, too, that I’ll come back to Joey Comeau’s previous works, because despite the flaws of “Malagash,” his writing and eccentric concept lured me in better than most novels.