This past August, I set out on a quest: to watch every single episode of The Office, in order, from Season One through Season Nine. It’s been a great journey, and today is a bittersweet day. I have just one episode left—the finale—and I do not want this hilariously witty show to end. It’s rather ironic then, or perhaps it’s kismet, that today happens to also be the day that I’m reviewing One More Thing: Stories and Other Stories by B.J. Novak—an actor, writer, director, and executive producer of The Office.
I have to admit, One More Thing started out a bit differently than I expected. This 276-page book of short stories, which range in length from as little as two lines to as long as 20 pages, opens on a rather dark note—something I wasn’t quite expecting from this Office writer. Themes of gloomy failure, death, and disappointment color the beginning tales—it’s a little off-putting. The stories are funny, yes, but there is something about them that just seems…off; that seems unsettling, frustrating, and uncomfortable. They’re uncanny.
As I tried to pinpoint what exactly made me feel this way, I looked to the vignettes’ subject matter. Each story contains wildly imaginative and weird parameters. For instance, the book’s title is derived from the story “Sophia,” which features a scorned sex robot. Some are a bit abrasive, too, such as the one entitled, “The Comedy Central Roast of Nelson Mandela,” and “The Ghost of Mark Twain,” which features an English teacher addressing the use of a certain word in Twain’s Huckleberry Finn (said word is sprinkled throughout the story.) Others were just so odd that I had the feeling there was a bigger meaning to the text that I simply wasn’t getting; as an English major and a lover of symbolism, being unable to decipher Novak’s message was infuriating. At one point, I almost put down the book for good without finishing. It was simply too weird, too uncanny, for me to go on.
However, when I reached the story “MONSTER: The Roller Coaster,” my feelings changed. This story takes the cliché, “Life is a roller coaster,” and turns it on its head by imagining that a man creates a roller coaster that takes its riders literally through life—through loops of love, break-up, and divorce, through the college years and marriage and death. It’s a beautifully written story with a really cool concept. That’s when it clicked for me—throughout the book, Novak’s overarching theme is life itself. Realizing this, I flipped through the past stories with new eyes, taking them in now with a fresh understanding. Novak’s humor is dark and absurdist, but isn’t that life?
Finishing out the book was a real treat. I loved seeing Novak poke fun at other clichés. For instance, “If I Had A Nickel” works out the business theory and economics involved in receiving a five-cent payment for each time a cup of coffee is spilled, and “Great Writers Steal” features two aspiring writers turned burglars. Other stories creatively reimagine the invention of the calendar or the origin of “Confucius Say.” Novak takes clichés and accepted folklore and popular objects or emotions and re-imagines them—flips them on their heads until they’re almost unrecognizable. While yes, this leaves readers with an uncanny feeling, it also gives readers a fulfilling sense of taking in life in a new way—with a new perspective and a mind opened to infinite possibilities.
Novak’s writing is clear and refreshing, dark and imaginative, and wonderfully funny. I’d recommend this book to lovers of short fiction who don’t mind boundaries being pushed. And, even if it seems slightly uncomfortable at first, I urge you to read it through to the end—it will be well worth your while.
Chelsea is a graduate of the DCH Training Center. She is obsessed with music of the 60s & 70s and her vices include vanilla lattes and Swedish Fish. You can check out more of Chelsea’s thoughts and ponderings HERE!