Monday, April 23, 2018

Noy Holland (Group project post)

There is little information to be found about Noy Holland on the internet, But there is no doubt she's been a successful Author. Her latest work is I Was Trying to Describe What It Feels Like: New and Selected Stories, out now from Counterpoint Press. Noy's debut novel, Bird, came out in 2015 to much critical acclaim. Other collections of short fiction and novellas include Swim for the Little One First (FC2), What Begins with Bird (FC2), and The Spectacle of the Body (Knopf).  She has published work in The Kenyon Review, Antioch, Conjunctions, The Quarterly, Glimmer Train, Western Humanities Review, The Believer, NOON, and New York Tyrant, among others.  She was a recipient of a Massachusetts Cultural Council award for artistic merit and a National Endowment for the Arts Fellowship.  She has taught for many years in the MFA Program for Poets and Writers at the University of Massachusetts, as well as at Phillips Andover and the University of Florida.  She serves on the board of directors at Fiction Collective Two.

Tally is an incredibly short piece, less than two full pages. Yet there is a great deal of story told in those eight paragraphs. This leads to our first question: how short can a short story be, before it becomes flash or minute fiction? There is a lot of plot in a short space, so perhaps it is the contents of the story, or how much time is spanned that determines what kind of fiction it is?

In the New York Times review of her newest collection, I Was Trying to Describe What it Feels Like, Scott Bradfield says "For two decades, Noy Holland has been writing about the deep connections that develop between people and the natural landscapes they inhabit." Do you see such a connection in Tally? How does Noy Holland use the natural landscapes in the story to aid and shape the


  1. Like any aspect of writing, the length of a story determining the type of story is incredibly subjective. I know that when I read Tally I considered that to be flash fiction, but not everyone would agree with me.

    Something about the landscape or setting of the story that I noticed is how in some respects it seemed to be a character, one that had the most power. Specifically the bend where the once sober man's brother died. But even the house of the man, with its too large bathtub, felt like it was almost active in the story like the other human characters. It shaped the reality.

  2. I would call Tally flash fiction, but I don't feel that's a reason that Tally should be excluded from this short story collection, because collections should inevitably include something that bends the edges, whether some flash fiction or something that could be called a novella, because teaching by contrast is a valid tool.

    In regards to the landscape, I do see the beginnings of the connection, with the sober brother drinking at the bar, the moment where they lie in the grass where the drinking brother died and the later reflection that they were, "lain in his drunk brother's ashes, in grass where he had done ahead." The entirety of that last paragraph does really interesting things with the landscape, showing how grief is as catacylsmic as an earthquake.

  3. I thought that I would take the time to count the amount of words in the story, in order to get a more technical view on the argument of whether this is a short story, flash fiction, or what have you. WELL, in counting, I found that the story is EXACTLY 500 words, which technically counts it as short story, as a short story is a story that is between 500 and 10,000 words. I'm not sure if this is an incredible coincidence or completely intentional, but I am IMPRESSED. This is the shortest possible story you could get that is still considered a short story.

    I love the connection with the landscape toward the end, with the earthquake. There is all this movement happening with the characters, and then the earth is moving, and I think that's really cool. I also like that it points out that it isn't metaphor, even though the connection makes it almost painfully and unavoidably metaphoric.

  4. The length of a story shouldn't matter as long as its good. I enjoyed the plot fo the story and was pleasantly surprised that the shortness didn't effect the quality.

    What really sells the story is the imagery, specifically in the final paragraph. It brings a lot of emotion to the story and gives us insight into the narrator's mind. It allows us to connect with the narrator even though we never learn their name.

  5. I go back and forth between liking and disliking this story. I think it's really beautiful and I admire very short stories and flash fiction because of how poetic they always strike me as, I think because the language has to do so much work since there is less of it. The places where the language strays from the normal or the narrative are what capture me and keep me stuck in this piece. I especially love the line "The body opens, can be opened, a marvel, and still we live."
    I'm also a slut for space imagery, so that probably contributes to my enjoyment of this story.
    I'm not sure how to define what is a short story and what is flash fiction, and I'm not sure that I have the authority to do so. However, I do not like the phrase "flash fiction" because I feel like it minimizes the amount of work that can be done in a short piece such as this.
    I definitely see a connection between landscape and body here, and I like the slight connections towards body as landscape, and looking at trauma through that lens. That's the central idea of this story and it is done very well, in my humble opinion.

  6. I don't think the length of a story should matter. There are the famous six-word stories (The smallest coffins are the heaviest) and then there can be a thirty-page story still viewed as a short story. I think it just comes down to a person's need to categorize things rather than to just focus on the content.

    Some of the imagery connections had me think of George Orwell. Holland and Orwell both use landscape to show emotion really well. I think stories can cover a lot of time and ground with this technique. A lot can happen in a short story, or maybe one thing could happen. I think it just depends on if people want to go by a standard definition of short story, or bend the fictionalized rules.

  7. I love this shit. Shit that tells you about itself from the moment you read it, till hours after. I really really like the way it's stressed that she's "borrowing grief". What an emotion to borrow, what an idea to hold to in place of somebodies personality. It goes way beyond pity or empathy, to borrow someones grief, it's sort've a fetishization of the grief. It makes you wonder if all human interaction, is just a manifestation of your oversimplification of another persons emotions, and then the subsequent faulty belief thereafter that you somehow understand them. Certainly, in this case, when something much larger than either of them, an earthquake, comes it's funny that they blame themselves for it. Another falsity, this time of the world, a bending of it to fit what their sad minds want, instead of what the reality is. I sometimes don't love the cadence the author chooses to write by, it's plodding, and lulls me away from the situation, draws my eyes off the page.

  8. The length of a story is irrelevant; the content and execution of a story is definitely more important. I can tell a lot of people can be confused when it comes down to flash fiction and prose poetry. I feel like the distinction between the two is the use of language and "traditional" poetic motives. I feel like prose poetry is a snapshot in time focused on feeling while flash fiction takes on the full use of the iceberg effect and storytelling.

    On the imagery, I don't know if it was just me, but I don't think it really worked at points. Like I think the first three quarters of the story really worked with imagery. It really captured a time and place and somehow also characterized the characters (and possibly their backstories). But the part with the stupid earthquake was stupid. I understand that earthquakes are unexpected and sudden, but I just don't feel like it had a purpose to the story, if that makes sense. I feel like if natural disasters are to be in a story, they need to actually be used metaphorically, not just literally. I feel like the earthquake didn't do that; it had no purpose.

  9. It is an interesting argument that I feel is brought up often and we always seem to come to the conclusion that there is no one answer. You can say that the short story is technically 500-10000 words or that the identifying terms were meant for business/marketing means, but in the end it shouldn't and really doesn't matter. It can be whatever the hell you want it to be and for me, this is as much a short story as any other.

    I think Noy does a great job connecting the landscape to the characters and story. It can be difficult at times to write metaphorically because it may not convey the right emotion/image it is intended for. There is also the question of ambiguity and controlling it so the reader can understand the actions of the story along with the emotion it gives. I tend to be a slow-digesting reader so there were times where I reread paragraphs to see the entire scope of that moment in the story. I still believe her use of landscape captured the right emotions in the moment as well as the physical nature between the narrator and the sober man.

  10. This story reminds me of some of the shorter other pieces we've read throughout this course. I know that once a piece is out in the world, the audience will determine what it becomes, but I think if an author states that their piece is a short story, then that's what makes it a short story. In my nonwestern theatre class we discussed whether a piece was a play or a performance art. That line, like the short story vs. flash fiction line, is constantly moving, so sorting it into one or another is almost impossible.

    The piece just is.