The novella is typically between twenty to forty thousand words, longer than a short story, shorter than a novel, and in the words of the novelist Ian McEwan, “long enough for a reader to inhabit a world or a consciousness.” It is focused on one theme in an organic unity of structure and meaning. The plot is self-contained and the characters breathe the action. In other words, the novella is the aesthetic ambition of an author in search of perfection.
In the search for such perfection is Michael Fertik’s novella “Allotrope.” You can read “Allotrope” in one sitting; no, “Allotrope” compels you to read it in one sitting. The four characters—Yitzhak, Sleeping Bear, Arielle, and Sunny—form a multicultural elasticity that heightens as the story tightens and the mystery deepens. The characters each play a role but their synergy transcends their individual will, and the story unfolds in irony woven into the denouement. Taking from drama the literary device of foreshadowing, Fertik interjects clues and asides along the way in the dialogue and the myth at the story’s core.
Here is a summary of “Allotrope” without giving the ending away:
The novella opens with Sleeping Bear, the driver, and Yitzhak and Arielle, the passengers, in the Inuit’s Chevy Tahoe on their way to an old, deserted mining camp in traditional land two hundred and fifty miles east of Nome. Having received a letter from the Executive Chairman of the Conference of the Aleut Peoples of Alaska, Director Clarke of the U.S. Geological Survey taps Yitz and the young summer intern Ariell né Kha Hli to investigate why the River Haagil has turned from a “healthy blue to a dark black.” When they arrive at the deserted mining facility, they do not expect to meet Sunny, an African-American geologist checking out the asset of the private equity firm Northern Light and Power. Thus, the intrigue begins, along with instruction into rocks and rock formation and the difference between chaoite and graphite and graphene.