Winner of FC2’s Ronald Sukenick Innovative Fiction Prize
A stunning look at the labor of obsession and the industry of self-destruction
In her lush, lyrical, and unflinching short fiction debut, JoAnna Novak examines the restless throb of desire amid the rote work of jobs and obligations, from the walk-ins of a New York banquet kitchen to the pier of Venice Beach. Fueled by jellyfish pad Thai and Necco wafers, Mountain Dew and Xiaolongbao, the characters in these stories defy boundaries and mores: In “MEMO 19,” a former anorectic, bored of recovery and her clerical job, invites an unparalleled act of sexual defilement and in “Rio Grande, Wisconsin,” a fleshly preteen fantasizes about Bill Murray on a family vacation to Wisconsin. Celebrating the grueling beauty of the shift and the ticking virtues of self-restraint, Meaningful Work is a pageant of formal experimentation, in fearless, glittering prose.
Lisa Is the Water
Clambering Over Such Rocks
Lamb, Goat, Tongue
The Quiz and the Pledge
Rio Grande, Wisconsin
Radiant Spiritual Being
These Things Happen
JoAnna Novak is author of the novel I Must Have You and two books of poetry: Noirmania and Abeyance, North America. Her work has appeared in The Paris Review, The New York Times, The Atlantic, Conjunctions, AGNI, BOMB, and many other publications. She is cofounder of the literary journal and chapbook publisher Tammy.
“An incandescent debut by an incandescent talent. The stories in Meaningful Work are truly marvelous, radiant with wit, beauty, and hard-earned truths. Novak does soul-work in these pages––you will find yourself mesmerized, thrilled, renewed.” —Junot Díaz, Pulitzer Prize-winning author of The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao and This Is How You Lose Her
“Devouring, yearning, erasing, grabbing—these stories pulse with intensity and Novak’s scalpel-precise prose cuts to the core again and again. A startling and exciting collection that does not shirk from pretty much anything.” —Aimee Bender, author of Willful Creatures and The Girl in the Flammable Skirt
“I can’t remember the last time I had as much fun reading a new collection of stories as I did JoAnna Novak’s Meaningful Work. Every sentence is delectable—an appropriate word choice, given that Novak writes so gorgeously about food. (When you read these, make sure you have something good to eat at hand. They will make you hungry.) Acerbic, touching, graceful, and eccentric, Meaningful Work pays homage to Donald Barthelme and Grace Paley, even as it adds a fresh, unique, inimitable voice to our national literary conversation.” —David Leavitt, author of Shelter in Place
“In Meaningful Work, JoAnna Novak shows us what this world makes us swallow: shit jobs and Hostess Snowballs, the nuclear family, our own fulvous tongues. Language-glutted, her starveling girls and hollowed mothers gag on everything and nothing. Novak spreads it: a mangled smorgasboard of harms. This is a book of jagged mouthfuls, of candy-shell sentences with hot, gloppy cores. There’s no purging it. Read and the stories stay with you, like cuts rubbed with Sharpie in the fat of your heart.” —Joanna Ruocco, author of Dan