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The Novel I Never Wrote


The novel I never wrote unfolds in my head.

The one that haunts me but will never be read.

The novel that is never coming out.

The novel I told all of my friends about.

The novel like the emperor’s new clothes.

The novel that swallowed ten chapters whole.

The novel with a dozen main characters all true.

The novel born in New Jersey.

The novel tossing my favorite doll in the mud.

The novel psychoanalyzing my fear of empty spaces.

The adolescent novel.

The virgin novel.

The novel a flourishing oak in suburbia.

The novel that’s never hungry.

The novel that fucks me first time.

The novel that gets me stoned.

The novel that follows me to Boston.

The novel that gets me drunk and takes me home.

The New York City novel.

The novel that takes my hand in marriage on a beach in Puerto Rico.

The novel I blow and fuck.

The novel I nurse in sickness and in health.

The novel I cook for.

The vegetarian novel.

The novel I give birth to and raise.

The novel that puts me on a plane.

The foreign life novel.

The novel in German translation.

The novel that killed my brother.

The novel that continues to fuck me

While I dream about the novel I want to fuck.

The prescription painkiller novel.

The novel I go broke for.

The novel I will grow old with.

The novel that exhausts and will someday kill me.

The novel I will die for without ever having touched.

Jennifer Juneau

levelheaded: The Novel I Never Wrote


“The Novel,” according to this poem’s title, does not exist. It never has and maybe never will. The poem seems to call on a collective, universal discontent, saying something heartening like, “It’s ok. We all have some version of ‘The Novel’ in our lives.” For the speaker, “The Novel” represents one of her unlived lives, one of her unexperienced experiences. But the poem does something else, too. The idea of the unwritten novel is not new. The failed artist is a trope we quickly recognize, so the poem is also a wry critique of what it means to mope about “The Novel I Never Wrote.”


Early on, there’s a sense that the “neverness” of the novel is a failure. It “haunts” her. She lied to her friends about it. But a quarter of the way down, the poem changes. It becomes a listicle of a life story. Some items in the list give us a piece of compressed, familiar narrative: “The novel that continues to fuck me / While I dream about the novel I want to fuck.” Some are absurd: “The novel a flourishing oak in suburbia.” Some are both: “The vegetarian novel.” These moments come together to give us a portrait of the speaker. When we see ourselves in the speaker’s individual moments [“Hey! I was born in Jersey too!”], we might also see that her “life” has a pretty familiar arc. We’re all born. We all die. And many of us have analogous screw-ups and tragedies scattered through our lives. Even when the poem is specific about what has happened, the language is plain enough that events feel universal. And it’s absurd to obsess about a novel when you realize life is an inimitable bit of creation all by itself. The simplicity of the language helps us understand that “The Novel,” as a concept, is ultimately something very small and very common that we carry with us through moments of import.


For all the “prescription painkillers” and death and detached “fucking,” the poem is also hopeful. First, the speaker is not dead yet. In the last three lines, she flips into future tense. She tells us things she “will” do, and of course, predictions have a way of either coming true, or not. Second, she writes about her unwritten novel in the form of a poem. Even if the novel remains unwritten, the poem is already here. The poem offers up an alternative to her success/failure dichotomy. It is a third way. Even in the act of disparaging what she couldn’t do, she creates something much, much better than nothing.



-The Editors