Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Brawny brevity

Actor's hilarious debut collection ideal for the Twitter age

  • Print

With One More Thing: Stories and Other Stories, B.J. Novak -- most famous for his work on The Office as actor, writer, director and executive producer -- establishes himself as a fresh new literary voice, thanks to his wonderfully off-kilter imagination and wry, au courant observational humour.

Indeed, Novak's smart, hilarious debut is aimed squarely at the Twitter and Instagram generation.

A few critics, including the New York Times' Michiko Kakutani, have pointed out that Novak displays a finely tuned ear for the common vernacular not unlike the protagonist of the book's final story, a poet named J.C. Audetat. He ends up finding fame (but not fulfilment) as a translator of literary classics -- including a semi-controversial English-to-English translation of The Great Gatsby -- after he particularly nails it with a 21st-century update of Don Quixote.

Novak's true gift doesn't lie in his knack for writing "how people talk," but rather in his ability to put himself in the shoes of the most unlikely protagonists, from John Grisham -- whose latest bestseller goes to print with a truly unfortunate working title -- to the man who authored America's most beautiful, but most bastardized, math problem: "A man leaves Chicago at 12 p.m. on a train..."

In The Rematch, he imagines an obsessed hare as he finally faces off against the tortoise who ruined his life in an "athletic humiliation on an unprecedented scale." In No One Goes to Heaven to See Dan Fogelberg, we meet a guy who puts off a visit to his grandmother in heaven due to the overwhelming number of live music options that lie beyond the pearly gates.

A keen observer of the human condition, Novak recognizes we live on the Internet. Wikipedia Brown and the Case of the Missing Bicycle sends up the time-sucking Internet black holes we all find ourselves in. "'Wait, let's not get distracted,' said Sally. 'Every time we talk to Wikipedia Brown, we get distracted. We spend hours and hours with him, and always forget what we were supposed to investigate in the first place.' "

It's poignant, too; The Man Who Posted Pictures of Everything He Ate is a comment on isolation despite our hyper-connectivity, while One of These Days, We Have To Do Something About Willie deals with the challenges of staging an intervention based on troubling Facebook posts, a reminder that nobody's life is as it seems.

The book is punctuated with shorter musings. Kindness Among Cakes is a two-liner:

CHILD: Why does carrot cake have the best icing?
MOTHER: Because it needs the best icing.

Some might view these as unfinished, underdeveloped thoughts, but they offer a glimpse into a comedy writer's creative process. One gets the feeling that they've stumbled upon a raw, unfiltered idea for a comedy bit, hastily scribbled on a bedside napkin in the middle of the night.

There's a snap-crackle-and-pop spontaneity to Novak's prose; his gems are never buffed to a sheen. And in an era in which comedy careers are launched 140 characters at a time, he understands the value of economy. Brevity is the soul of wit, and all that.

Still, Novak shows real promise as a long-form fiction writer. One More Thing's pièce de résistance is a story called Kellogg's (or: The Last Wholesome Fantasy of the Middle-School Boy). It's about a kid who wins $100,000 in a box of contraband Frosted Flakes (his parents are the agave-syrup type) -- only to learn that claiming his prize might have dire consequences.

Some stories are stronger -- and, yes, funnier -- than others, but on the whole, this is an incredibly strong debut from an exciting new voice.


Jen Zoratti is an arts and life reporter at the Free Press.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition February 22, 2014 G6


Updated on Saturday, February 22, 2014 at 11:07 AM CST: Tweaks formatting.

Fact Check

Fact Check

Have you found an error, or know of something we’ve missed in one of our stories?
Please use the form below and let us know.

* Required
  • Please post the headline of the story or the title of the video with the error.

  • Please post exactly what was wrong with the story.

  • Please indicate your source for the correct information.

  • Yes


  • This will only be used to contact you if we have a question about your submission, it will not be used to identify you or be published.

  • Cancel

Having problems with the form?

Contact Us Directly
  • Print

You can comment on most stories on You can also agree or disagree with other comments. All you need to do is be a Winnipeg Free Press print or e-edition subscriber to join the conversation and give your feedback.

You can comment on most stories on You can also agree or disagree with other comments. All you need to do is be a Winnipeg Free Press print or e-edition subscriber to join the conversation and give your feedback.

Have Your Say

New to commenting? Check out our Frequently Asked Questions.

Have Your Say

Comments are open to Winnipeg Free Press print or e-edition subscribers only. why?

Have Your Say

Comments are open to Winnipeg Free Press Subscribers only. why?

The Winnipeg Free Press does not necessarily endorse any of the views posted. By submitting your comment, you agree to our Terms and Conditions. These terms were revised effective April 16, 2010.


Make text: Larger | Smaller


Downtown BIZ Watch patrol along Main Street

View more like this

Photo Store Gallery

  • KEN GIGLIOTTI  WINNIPEG FREE PRESS / July 23 2009 - 090723 - Bart Kives story - Harry Lazarenko Annual River Bank Tour - receding water from summer rains and erosion  damage by flood  and ice  during spring flooding -  Red River , Lyndale Dr. damage to tree roots , river bank damage  , high water marks after 2009 Flood - POY
  • PHIL.HOSSACK@FREEPRESS.MB.CA Winnipeg Free Press 090528 STAND UP...(Weather) One to oversee the pecking order, a pack of pelican's fishes the eddies under the Red River control structure at Lockport Thursday morning......

View More Gallery Photos


Are you concerned about the number of homicides so far this year?

View Results

Ads by Google