A review by T. F. Rhoden of Noël Valis’s The Labor of Longing: A Novella.

Those thoughts of ours, the ones that, if they do not haunt us, do whisper to us in a way which causes one to pause and reconsider some moment, some decision, some action of one’s life—those pangs of shiftless consciousness carry both the theme, and many ways, the plot of Noël Valis’s story, entitled The Labor of Longing: A Novella. The story crafted here, one set in the 1880s-90s, alternating between the barren pinelands of rural New Jersey and the city of Philadelphia, is one that is vivid and smartly written.

The language of Valis is pleasing. Many a passage or turn of phrase will make the reader wish to stop and reread what she has just read; though this is not done in an annoying way, as if it somehow breaks up the narrative, but in manner which is thought-provoking and, as a literary device, simply useful because the reader is impelled to empathize and re-empathize with a particular character.

Our inner librarian might be tempted to catalogue this story as magical realism. But this reviewer wishes to resist the urge to do so. Those elements that are magical for the characters of the story are probably better understood as psychological or, perhaps, pathological, but not preternatural. The title of the story is a very good one in this sense. For the act longing is nothing that is, in and of itself, outside the realm of a humanistic or social scientific understanding of the human condition.

A reluctance to emphasize the otherworldly elements of the story may be a bold interpretation to hold on the way that Valis composes the character of, say, Abby, since the young Abby’s true voice is only heard after she is dead. But it is a voice that is confident and controlled only as much as the voice is ascertained via the thoughts of another main character of the story in the person of Jonah.

In this respect of voice, Valis shines as a writer… [click here to continue to read full text]


*Originally published in Sabatoge Reviews by T. F. Rhoden; image credit for this re-post via New Jersey Public Radio. Unless otherwise stated, all posts on this website are under Creative Commons licence.