Authors: B. J. Novak
THIS IS A BORZOI BOOK PUBLISHED BY ALFRED A. KNOPF
Copyright © 2014 by B. J. Novak
All rights reserved. Published in the United States by Alfred A. Knopf, a division of Random House LLC, New York, and in Canada by Random House of Canada Limited, Toronto, Penguin Random House Companies.
Knopf, Borzoi Books, and the colophon are registered trademarks of Random House LLC.
Selected stories first appeared in
The New Yorker
(Winter 2013/2014), and in
Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data
Novak, B. J., date.
[Short stories. Selections]
One more thing : stories and other stories / B. J. Novak.
ISBN 978-0-385-35183-6 (hardcover) — ISBN 978-0-385-35184-3 (eBook)
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.
Jacket design by Hum Creative
To the Reader
In the aftermath of an athletic humiliation on an unprecedented scale—a loss to a tortoise in a footrace so staggering that, his tormenters teased, it would not only live on in the record books, but would transcend sport itself, and be taught to children around the world in textbooks and bedtime stories for centuries; that hundreds of years from now, children who had never heard of a “tortoise” would learn that it was basically a fancy type of turtle from hearing about this very race—the hare retreated, understandably, into a substantial period of depression and self-doubt.
The hare gained weight, then lost weight; turned to religion, then another less specific religion. The hare got into yoga; shut himself indoors on a self-imposed program to read all the world’s great novels; then traveled the world; then did some volunteer work. Everything helped a little bit, at first; but nothing really helped. After a while, the hare realized what the simplest part of him had known from the beginning: he was going to have to rematch the tortoise.
“No,” came the word from the tortoise’s spokesperson. “The tortoise prefers to focus on the future, not relive the past. The tortoise is focused full-time on inspiring a new generation with the lessons of dedication and persistence through his popular
speaking tours and his charitable work with the Slow and Steady Foundation.”
The smugness and sanctimony of the tortoise’s response infuriated the hare.
“The lessons of dedication and persistence”?
Had everyone forgotten that the hare had taken
throughout the race (!)—unequivocally guaranteeing victory to anyone—a horse, a dog, a worm, a
, depending on the wind—
lucky enough to be matched against the hare at this reckless, perspectiveless, and now-forever-lost peak phase of his career, an offensive period of his own life that he had obsessed about and tried in vain to forgive himself for ever since? How could anyone think the tortoise was relevant to any of this? A minor detail of the race, known to few but obsessives (of which there were still plenty), was that there had been a gnat clinging to the leg of the tortoise throughout the entire contest: was this gnat, too, worthy of being celebrated as a hero, full of counterlogical lessons and nonsensical insight like “Right place, right time takes down talent in its prime”? Or “Hang on to a tortoise’s leg, who knows where it will lead”?
No—the lesson of this story has nothing to do with the tortoise, thought the hare, and everything to do with the hare. How he had let himself become so intoxicated with the aspects of his talent that were rare that he had neglected the much more common aspects of his character that also, it so happened, were more important—things like always doing your best, and never taking success for granted, and keeping enough pride burning inside to fuel your success but not so much to burn it down. Now, the hare knew these things. Now. Now that it was too late.
Or was it? What was that lesson again? Slow and steady?
The hare started running again, every day, even though there was no race planned. He ran a mile every morning, then two, then ten.
Before long, he added an afternoon run to his training routine—a slower one, with a different goal in mind. On this run, he made a point to start a conversation with everyone he came across. “Boy, I sure would love to race that tortoise again someday. You think anyone would want to watch it, though?” Then he would shrug it off and jog along to the next stranger. “Hey, what do you think would happen if I raced that tortoise again? Ya think I’d win this time? Or do you think pride would get the better of me all over again?” Then he’d shrug and run off again, at a provocatively medium pace.
Slowly, steadily, anticipation built for a tortoise-hare rematch. After a while it became all that anyone could talk about, and eventually, the questions made their way to the tortoise.
“No,” said the tortoise, but this time his “no” just led to more questions. “No” now, or “no” ever? Would he
rematch the hare? If so, when, and under what conditions? If not, why? Could he at least say “maybe”?
No, said the tortoise again; never. They kept asking, and he kept saying no, until eventually, everyone gave up and stopped asking. And that’s when the tortoise, sad and dizzy at having all this attention given to him and then taken away, impulsively said, Yes, okay, I bet I can beat this hare again. Yes.
I’m undefeated against the hare
, thought the tortoise.
Actually, I’m 1–0
I’m undefeated in my entire racing career! How do you win a race? Slow and steady, that’s what they say, right? Well, I invented slow and steady. This is good. This will be good. One time could have been a fluke. Twice, there’ll be no question
The race was set in ten days’ time. The tortoise set out to replicate what seemed to have worked the first time, which was nothing in particular: simple diet, some walking around. A little of this, a little of that. He didn’t want to overthink it. He was going to mainly just focus on being slow and steady.
The hare trained like no one had ever trained for anything. He ran fifteen miles every morning and fifteen every afternoon. He watched tapes of his old races. He slept eight hours every night, which is practically unheard of for a hare, and he did it all under a wall taped full of the mean, vicious things everyone had said about him in all the years since the legendary race that had ruined his life.