When writers or readers think of literary formats, the lowly novella is often overlooked or forgotten. Usually between 20,000 and 40,000 words, the novella occupies an awkward space between short story and novel, but it offers opportunities for characterization and conciseness that longer or shorter forms don’t. Adam Gnade writes both novellas and novels, and his shorter works stand apart as fascinating experiments in an unusual media form.
Hey Hey Lonesome and The Heat and the Hot Earth were published in 2011 and share a lot in terms of structure and characterization. Both follow a group of teens (and one older character) in Southern California as they navigate relationships and try to find their place in an amorphous social order. Lonesome follows the paths of several characters as they move toward a house party; they move between astonishingly crude and aloof dialogue and highly emotional introspection. Its characters, for the most part, balance outer cool and inner turmoil. Hot Earth is more dynamic and simpler in structure; punctuated by a longing letter and a sneering Tumblr post from two characters, it reflects the callousness and romanticism of the modern teen.
The two novellas are connected through recurring characters and themes, and Gnade notes that he ultimately wants to link these stories with his longer novel, Hymn California, and another novella. Gnade says, “The whole universe of my characters is mapped out in a little three-inch-thick notebook. It’s like a geometric cube of paper. I’m just following that map until it’s done.” The connectedness of the stories gives the novellas a feeling not unlike those big ensemble teen comedies of the ’80s and ’90s; characters move in and out of each other’s orbits, brushing against each other as they go.