If I die before I wake
If I die before I wake – Sherwood King
I confess I am developing a liking for the slender novel, the ‘novella’. If the building unit of the novel is the paragraph, then it must be every good writer’s aim to achieve his design with a minimum of material, a minimum of paragraphs. Thrift in words, and sentences and paragraphs is one of the gifts of consciousness to mankind and a sign of its mastery – to be able to say more but to know that what is said is enough.
If I die before I wake is an excellent example. At a mere 150 pages, it propels the reader through the story of Laurence Planter with extraordinary strength. It is a novella about hope, about bullish, naive masculinity (“‘Sure,’ I said, ‘I would commit murder. If I had to, of course, or if it was worth my while.'”) in the face of inexplicable complexity, the complexity of beauty, of lust, of legal proceedings; “I don’t know. All I know is that I am down here in Tahiti soaking up the sun…”
What it teaches us, and it is not an overtly didactic novel, is that potency is at the root of brevity, self-restraint at the core of beauty. Perhaps this is the lesson of the novella as a form: sometimes, to do things better is to do things less.