TV Star makes book debut

Emma Peters

“I was sad that summer was over. But I was happy that it was over for my enemies, too.”

So says the narrator of the two-line story, “The Walk to School on the Day After Labor Day,” just one of 64 short stories and wise-crack jokes from B.J. Novak’s debut work of fiction, titled One More Thing: Stories and Other Stories.

Novak, who rose to fame for his roles as the egotistical Ryan Howard on NBC’s television comedy show The Office, and as an officer in Quentin Tarantino’s movie Inglourious Basterds, has since become a quadruple threat in acting, directing, producing, and now, writing. With a background in stand-up comedy and an aptitude for absurdist imagination, Novak’s debut is a fresh, whimsical, and even dark work of fiction.

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The beauty of Novak’s short stories lies in their ability to find the humor in life’s seemingly insignificant events, which he then spins into something fantastical.

In “Julie and the Warlord”, the unabashed risk and excitement of online dating is explored when a woman finds herself on a date with a ruthless warlord from the Democratic Republic of Congo—and actually enjoying it. And in “Welcome to Camp Fantastic for Gifted Teens,” Novak satirizes what really happens during summer camp.

Such stories maintain a level of connection with the audience, but remain playful enough to hinder boredom. Some of his strongest connecting threads are love and romance, which Novak is no novice to. For example, his longer story “Sophia” is about an artificially intelligent robot that is subsequently returned by her owner because she fell in love with him. Although initially similar in concept to the recent movie Her, it takes a sharp detour from the usual lovey-dovey unconventional romance, instead favoring unexpected conventionality in a story rooted in situational irony.

With a style of writing reminiscent of Woody Allen, Novak keeps the varied stories readable through wit, sheer bravado, and by avoiding a discernable punch line. Novak fully embraces clichés, like writing a surprising, contemporary sequel to the tortoise and the hare, and spinning the idea of “closure” in a relationship into a marvelously deranged love story.

Even when the stories’ themes turn dark and serious, Novak reminds us that his stories are for our amusement. This is partly due to his allusions to cultural icons like Miley Cyrus, Adolf Hitler and even Nelson Mandela, whom liven up stories with surprising bursts of satire.

Also entertaining is his motifs of red t-shirts with a pocket (the key to finding true love), and the girl who gave great advice, which are integrated in some of the stories.

Even with these motifs, Novak’s book is not cohesive. But that’s okay. The material maintains its bravado because of the variation in length and tone of each story, from wisecrack joke to quasi-inspirational narrative. The writing is unadulterated, the ideas blatant but with the essence of meaning something deeper, and they always compel a wry grin, if not laughter.  Novak writes with a comedian’s conviction, and his confidence in just how silly he can get makes him all the more charming.

One More Thing is an enjoyable read when the homework is completed and a quick, amusing story is in order before bed. You won’t want to binge read this book, or find it necessarily groundbreaking, but its resourceful, inventive storytelling encourages us to read just one more of his stories.