Novelette Review: The Only Harmless Great Thing (2018) by Brooke Bolander



You really need to read this novelette.

A novelette is a story with less than 20,000 words. The Only Harmless Great Thing (2018) is 17,200 words long. A novella is a written work with between 20,000 and 40,000 words, or less than 100 pages long. It is longer than a short story or novelette, which has less than 20,000 words, but not as long as an 80,000-word novel. The exact length of a novelette or novella is defined by periodical, publisher, and award  guidelines. Historically, a novella was intended to educate the reader, moralize a social problem, or point out a satirical-worthy absurdity. With a novella’s less than 40,000-word length, a story can have multiple characters or concentrate on the journey of a single character. Short fiction, less than 40,000 words, works best when the story focuses on a character or characters’ emotional and personal development, and does not tackle a large-scale issue. The best novellas and novelettes have the character development of a novel with the fast pace of a short story.

The Only Harmless Great Thing (2018) by Brooke Bolander is a novelette of such power and beauty, you should be a changed person after reading it. In less than 20,000 words Bolander rips out your heart, makes your jaw hurt, punches you in the gut, and in the end sob at the horror and beauty at the end of everything.

If you are looking for a linear plot, item A -> item B -> item C ->, you will be very disappointed. Bolander moves among the multiple stories happening years, and millennia, apart, to come to the center story’s ending. The stories of our lives are not linear. What happened 20 years ago informs, and can dictate, the choice we make in the now.

This is a story of stories. The novelette starts in the far future where all that is left of humanity is the story elephants’ Many Mothers carry among themselves of why they glow in the dark. All the stories the future elephants would tell are stories you read in the novelette. One story line is how the mythic female elephant Furmother-With-The-Cracked-Tusk, who had fur like a bear, rescued and released all stories into the world. In another story line Topsy the elephant and the stubborn, dying, Radium Girl named Regan originally from coal mine country tell us of the horror of being disposable in the early 20th century, and of righteous revenge that may end a bigger wrong. In another story line Kat is the scientist who comes up with the crazy idea to make elephants glow in the dark in order to warn future entities away from buried nuclear waste. She gets the job to sell the idea to the elephant Matriarch, and live with the guilt of the consequences. All the stories intertwine so that only by knowing what happened in the past, and in the future, what is presented when you the reader encounters it, makes sense. As a reader you will be juggling multiple, multicolored balls.

Among the comments I have encountered concerning this book, and I would add my voice, is that how the males — human and elephant — torment the female characters and do what the males can to belittle, negate, and make the females disappear from the male’s world. Once females cost the men money or treasure, the females are discarded. If the men can make money and find entertainment as part of the disappearing, all the better. This story is a fable of sorts. Treat all with dignity and kindness, or it will end badly for you.

We are the stories we tell ourselves. Bolander has the future Many Mothers explain this in the very beginning of The Only Harmless Great Thing. Without the stories our ego tells ourselves, how would we, individually and collectively, know who we were? Why are you where you are? Without your resentments, who are you? Is the moon made of Furmother-With-The-Cracked-Tusk’s tusk that was blasted into the sky when the stories inside her exploded, is it a wheel of European cheese, or the home of a goddess who refuses to speak to her brother? What is the story behind you wearing blue jeans, khaki pants, or a sarong? Who would the collective we be if we told  stories where we in our reality-to-come acted with kindness?

“No matter how far you march, O best beloved mooncalf, the past will always drag around your ankle, a snapped shackle time cannot pry loose.” — from The Only Harmless Great Thing (2018) by Brooke Bolander


Please, visit Brooke Bolander’s website:

The Only Harmless Great Thing (2018) is available online in digital and paper forms. You can also request a hard copy through your local bookseller.

‘Artistic Archetype’ Blog 28-Day Challenge: Day 4 through Day 7— Postage Stamp Block No. 4, No. 5, No. 6, and No. 7

Life is what happens when you have really good ideas.

Here is Day Four’s Postage Stamp Piece No. 4

This square is, individually, a failed attempt. My goal is that the embroidery be visually in front of the fabric. The embroidered pattern is visually lost among the fabric’s printed pattern. This fabric is from an estate sale stash. I have a collection of “vintage” small pattern fabrics I love. I wanted to include them in this effort, but that will not work, as you can see.

Day4_PostageStamp (640x455)

This 1.5-inch cotton postage stamp square is embroidered with yellow and red DMC floss but due to the pattern, you cannot see the free-hand sewing.


Here is Day Five’s Postage Stamp Piece No. 5

This fabric is also from the estate sale stash. I doubled the fabric so I am sewing through two layers. This was once part of a curtain. While not sheer, the fabric is loosely woven. The fabric frays easily. I do not think it is cotton. I have not fire tested the fabric. The brown print along the edge is outside the 1/4-inch (0.6-cm) seam allowance. The embroidered pattern is not centered. I will wait until it is sewn into rows to add any more sewing.

Day5_cropped (544x640)

This 1.5 inch (3.8 cm) postage stamp square was originally a scrap of curtain. The fabric is loosely woven. I doubled the fabric so to sew through two layers of fabric. The free-hand embroidery is DMC floss.


Here is Day Six’s Postage Stamp Piece No. 6

I like the contrast of the purple embroidery floss and the orange fabric.

Day6_cropped (640x540)

This 1.5-inch (3.8-cm) postage stamp square is 100% cotton with a free-hand pattern of purple DMC embroidered floss.


Here is Day Seven’s Postage Stamp Piece No. 7

I like bright and bold colors. I also like color contrasts. The gold-yellow contrasts well with the dark green cotton fabric. This is my favorite so far.

Day7_cropped (640x480)

This 1.5-inch (3.8-cm) postage stamp square is 100% cotton. The free-hand embroidered pattern is DMC floss.


First Row of Postage Stamp Squares

The postage stamp squares are hand sewn into rows of six squares, with a larger square of five rows to follow. There will be 30 squares to for a larger quilt block. Day 4’s No. 4 square unsuccessful effort will be blended into the larger quilt square. Each square, when sewn, is 1 inch (2.54 cm) wide. You can see in No. 2’s blue square the outer triangle’s bottom corners were caught in the seam fold. Placement of the embroidered object will be something to think about as I proceed.

Row1_cropped (640x437)

The first row of the first week of postage stamp squares.

‘Artistic Archetype’ Blog 28-Day Challenge: Day Three— Postage Stamp Block No. 3

Today I went with a light neutral color and a dark red DMC embroidery floss.

I kept the free-hand embroidery centered.

I learned an important lesson with the blue square with red DMC floss. I stayed away from the seam line, but allowed enough space for the seam fold. This block will not have that problem I encountered in Piece No. 2.

Here is Day Three: Postage Stamp Piece No. 3

Day3_PostageStampChallenge small

1.5 inch (3.8 cm) square of 100% cotton fabric with dark red DMC embroidery floss while maintaining 1/4 inch (0.6 cm) seam allowance.


I also wanted to include the heart block I finished on Day 2.

P1050144 (640x612)

3-inch heart block allows a 1/4 inch (0.6 cm) seam. Finished block will be 2.5 inches square. White pattern fabric is leftover from another project. The blue floral fabric is from a scrap in the stash made up of fabric from several estate sales.

‘Artistic Archetype’ Blog 28-Day Challenge: Day Two— Postage Stamp Block No. 2

I started to research the origins of the Postage Stamp Quilt. I found it interesting that up until the widespread production of calico fabric, quilting was within the sphere of the wealthy. Regular people could not afford the fabric to make blankets. In the mid-19th century quilting became popular in the United States with the widespread US production of calico fabric and expansion of a Middle Class.

Today’s 1.5-inch (3.8-cm) square has a problem that I did not realize until I sewed it to the Day One square. The outer red triangle is to big and runs right against the seam allowance. When sewn the bottom tips of the triangle are hidden in the seam. I should have used two triangles instead of three. I was attempting to “fill the canvas” as my grade school art teacher was always telling me. To best utilize the colors of the fabric and embroidery floss, I need to allow for the seam fold.

Here is Day Two: Postage Stamp Piece No. 2


1.5 inch (3.8 cm) square of 100% cotton fabric with red DMC embroidery floss while maintaining 1/4 inch (0.6 cm) seam allowance.


‘Artistic Archetype’ Blog 28-Day Challenge: Day One — Postage Stamp Block No. 1

At the first part of January every year there are self challenges one can do. One I admired but thought looked like a recipe for an unfinished project (UFO) was the temperature afghan. Every day you crochet a row with a color you designated as the color for the daily high temperature. This looks like a colorful project that requires daily effort, which is fine. It looked like something I might get bored with say, early March.

I enjoy piecing quilts. I found an alternative idea of making a small, daily quilt square. I like this idea. I found 3-inch squares of neutral colored material in my fabric and scrap stash, and thought I could applique hearts. Each 2-inch heart would be a unique shape and fabric. So, I started, and they look darling. Problem is it takes me two days to baste and applique a heart. Not a square-a-day type project.

I have completed a postage stamp quilt project. I know what I am getting myself into. I made a 16 inch by 16 inch postage stamp quilt block as a wall hanging for a local weaver’s guild challenge. The finished product was to be a certain color combination. I do not weave but I drive my mother to guild meetings and events.  The quilt block was exhibited at an art gallery in St. Francis, Kansas with the weaving guild’s members’ works.

Postage stamp quilt fabric squares are, when finished, 1-inch (2.54-cm) square. When working with pieces of that size, accuracy or lack of precision in cutting the fabric will make or destroy, respectively, your quilting effort. All mistakes are amplified.

After wringing my hands, and hemming and hawing for several weeks, I decided to do the postage stamp a day. I could embroidery the 1-inch square to add interest. Then, I found a blog workshop/essay that challenged the would-be blogger to blog every day as an archetype that matches your personality. I answered several questions and was identified as an “Art blogger”. The postage stamp quilt piece a day merged with a daily “Art blogger” entry. I have several ongoing projects but they are not “finish in a day” projects. As they are completed over the next 28 days I will post pictures of them, too. I will still post recipe reviews and there is a handful of poetry books by women stacked beside my desk I need to review.

Here is Day One: Postage Stamp Piece No. 1

1.5 inch tan square with green emboidry

1.5 inch (3.8 cm), unfinished, tan, 100% cotton square with a freehand design of DMC green embroidery floss while maintaining a 1/4 inch (0.6 cm) seam allowance.

Recipe Review: Classic Challah — King Arthur Flour January #bakealong

classic challah bread #bakealong

Classic Challah bread. This is a three-braid loaf. The golden brown color can be attributed to including honey as an ingredient and the egg wash applied before baking.

“I could live on challah bread, the Jewish kosher bread, quite happily.” Dan Aykroyd

Classic Challah

I first was introduced to Challah (pronounced Hah’-lah) bread when I moved to Columbia, Missouri in early 2001. Uprise Bakery, then located in a basement underneath a shoe store, on certain days baked, if I recall correctly, Challah bread. The Challah bread from Uprise Bakery was an egg bread that dried out quickly. I could not eat a loaf on my own before it dried out and was only fit for the foxes living down on Hinkson Creek to gnaw on.

Two Challah loaves on the Jewish Shabbat table commemorate manna falling from heaven when the Israelites wandered the desert after the Exodus. The manna fell a double portion the day before Sabbath or a holiday. Depending on the source describing the Jewish tradition, Challah is used and treated differently in religious rituals. A small portion of the dough, or baked bread, is set aside as a representative Temple offering. Challah can refer the act of separating the offering before the dough is braided. Ingredients can also be determined by religious tenets. The Shabbat and Jewish holiday meals start with two whole loaves, or twelve loaves, of kosher bread. By braiding six strands, the two loaves could represent twelve loaves. I would recommend you research Challah bread and discover its role in Jewish rituals for yourself.

King Arthur Flour Classic Challah bread recipe came together with ease. I had all the ingredients in the pantry. I weighed the dry and wet ingredients in grams. I used canola oil as the vegetable oil. While everything worked well this time, next time I make this recipe I will bring the eggs to room temperature before adding and mixing. Mixing 115 F (46 C) water and cold eggs made me nervous. One package of instant yeast did not quite fill a tablespoon, but I used only the one package. I combined the ingredients in the order listed. Using a stand mixer, the dough mixed and then kneaded with a dough hook for eight minutes. I then consulted the family baker, my father, who agreed with me the dough was much to wet. I was expecting a wet dough because of the eggs. Some sweet bread dough is a wet dough, but this was beyond expectation.

weighing flour in grams

I weighed the dry and wet ingredients in grams.

There is something called the Baker’s Ratio or Baker’s Percentage. All good bread recipes follow this “magic” or “golden” ratio: 5 parts flour: 3 parts liquid. It does not matter if the bread is dinner rolls made with real, melted European butter or pizza dough made with cheap olive oil, both follow this ratio. Same flour, salt, and yeast, different tasting oils. The Baker’s Percentage is a ratio that determines how much of any ingredient needs to be present in proportion to the weight of flour. Egg or sweet breads tend to be on the wet side, violating the Baker’s Percentage because the eggs provide more liquid. For this recipe I did not weigh the eggs. I did not think to weigh the eggs. Next time I use eggs I will weigh the eggs. This Challah recipe also calls for 85 g honey. Honey is also a liquid, so you need to account for that weight in the 3 parts liquid. I calculated with the called-for 482 g flour, you would be permitted 337 g liquid. This Challah recipe’s 113 g water + 74 g vegetable oil + 85 g equals 272 g total liquid. This allows an additional 65 g for two liquid eggs. Two local farm-raised winter eggs should weigh, without shell, about 95 g. This would produce a wet dough.

challah dough after 8 minutes of kneading

I mixed the ingredients in the amounts called for by the recipe. After 8 minutes of kneading by the stand mixer I stopped to assess the situation. The dough is too wet.

A tablespoon of flour, each weighing 10 grams, was added at a time to the mixing dough for a total of 4 tablespoons, or 40 grams, before the dough looked and felt right. Under the Baker’s Percentage, the flour addition brought the weight of flour to 522 g and the estimated liquid weight to 365 g. The stand mixer kneaded for an additional 4 minutes.

dough with additional 40 g flour

After the addition of 40 g flour and four minutes of additional kneading, the dough was fine.

The dough was allowed to raise in a greased bowl on top of the refrigerator for 2 1/2 hours.

Challah dough and English muffin dough at the end of their first raise.

Challah dough (on your right) at end of the first raise on top of the refrigerator. Next to Challah dough is English muffin dough.

Working on a greased kneading mat, I weighed out three balls of dough, each weighing 306 grams. I used no flour when I worked the dough. I watched the King Arthur Four braiding demonstration video while the dough balls rested. Each ball was hand-rolled into a shorter than 20-in (51-cm) rope which shrank back every time I lifted my hands. The ropes rested on the greased kneading mat covered with greased wax paper for 10 minutes. The ropes did not shrink after resting, and stayed 20 in (51 cm) long. The three-braid loaf seemed most appropriate for a simple evening soup dinner. The loaf braided easy. I placed the loaf on a parchment paper covered silicon baking mat covering a heavy baking pan.

braiding of challah bread

Braiding a three-braid Challah loaf. I used a greased surface and did not add any more flour when working with the dough.

braided Challah loaf before raise

The three-braid Challah loaf on a heavy baking sheet with a silicon baking mat and parchment paper before raising.

Challah loaf after raising

After raising for 2 1/2 hours, the three-braid Challah loaf is ready for an egg-water wash before being placed in a 375 F (190.5 C) oven.

I covered the loaf with a greased wax paper. The braided loaf raised for 2 1/2 hours on top of the refrigerator. I brushed the egg-water glaze over the entire loaf. I set the heavy baking sheet onto a larger heavy baking sheet as directed by the recipe in order to prevent the loaf bottom from over browning or scorching. The loaf baked at 375 F (190.5 C) for 20 minutes. I rotated the loaf at 20 minutes for even baking in the oven.

Challah loaft baked for 20 minutes

The three-braid Challah loaf has baked for 20 minutes.

I placed a piece of tented aluminum foil over the loaf. The loaf was baked in the oven for another 13 minutes.

classic challah bread #bakealong

Classic Challah bread. This is a three-braid loaf. The golden brown color can be attributed to including honey as an ingredient and the egg wash applied before baking.

At the end of the 13 minutes the internal temperature of the bread was 200 F. The 13 minutes may have been to long to continue baking. Because of all the heat escaping when I turned the baking sheet, I was concerned with not allowing the bread enough time undisturbed in a hot oven. The aluminum foil slowed the browning, but did not completely stop  browning. You will want to watch and monitor the bread towards the end of baking time so that it does not scorch.

bottom of Challah loaf

The bottom of the Challah loaf.

This bread went very well with the Cajun-spiced soup. You can get 16 servings from the bread. I took 1/3 of the loaf, sliced, to work on Monday. The Challah loaf was enjoyed by all. The texture, color, and taste was an enjoyable change from the whole wheat or sourdough breads my family usually makes. I am glad I now have Challah bread within my repertoire.

There are different ways to approach the ritual meaning or what Challah bread represents inside Jewish culture. I suggest you read and contemplate for yourself.

Wikipedia is a good introduction to Challah bread and its use in religious life. Challah

Another source of Challah bread information.

Here is another source of information:

I would be remiss if I did not include the Uprise Bakery website. They moved to a building they share with Ragtag Cinema and 9th Street Video on Hitt Street next to the Presbyterian Church.

A website that explains the Baker’s Percentage is here:

Recipe Review: Cinnamon Star Bread — King Arthur Flour Holiday #bakealong

Cinnamon Star Bread

Cinnamon Star Bread is the King Arthur Flour Holiday #bakealong recipe

“Anyone who gives you a cinnamon roll fresh out of the oven is a friend for life.” — Lemony Snicket, from When Did You See Her Last? (2013) (All The Wrong Questions book 2)

Cinnamon Star Bread

If you have not read Lemony Snicket’s All the Wrong Questions series, you have missed a fun experience. This is not a book to read in public unless you want to be scowled at by serious, stuffy adults who dislike bursts of laughter. If you have read the much darker toned Edward Carey’s The Iremonger Trilogy, you will enjoy the much lighter toned All the Wrong Questions books. These are “You must read this!” books. Both take a 17-degree tilt on reality, and move forward from there. Like all excellent books cataloged as junior fiction, the books entertain middle school readers as well as adults.

While the Cinnamon Star Bread is not a cinnamon roll, pulling off a piece of Cinnamon Star Bread is better than any plain cinnamon roll. Each braid is a right size special event serving. The bread presents very well. What you bake looks exactly like the picture on the King Arthur Flour website. It appears you spent hours crafting the bread when you have not. If you have at most ten people over for a holiday breakfast or brunch, there won’t be any leftovers.

I have made this bread twice. Once in mid-November 2017 before the U.S. Thanksgiving holiday as a test to see if how the bread would work as a holiday meal dessert, and, again in December for Christmas Morning’s family gathering. Both times were a success.

starbread_mixing bowl (640x480)

The bread ingredients added as listed on the ingredients list.

For the November baking I used the by-volume ingredient list. I combined all the ingredients into a stand mixer in the order listed. By accident I grabbed from the pantry the King Arthur bread flour. I used Bob’s Red Mill potato flour. I used Parkey® margarine instead of unsalted butter. I used vanilla extract. The water was heated to 115 F (46.1 C) as listed on the instant yeast package. The nonfat dry milk made the dough reek of rotten milk. That is part of using dry milk, I have decided. I then used the stand mixer to knead the dough for 8 minutes. After raising for an hour the dough had doubled in size. I divided the raised dough into four balls and let rest covered  in the oiled mixing bowl I used for the first raise for 15 minutes.

readyforcutting (640x480)

The four layers are ready to slice into sixteen strips. The biscuit cutter in the center preserves the space in the center. I cut out from the biscuit cutter to the edge.

The kneading mat has circle sizes printed on it so I was able to roll each disc out to the 10-inch (25-cm) circle. I moved the rolled disc onto a pizza tin older than I am. I brushed the egg glaze onto the disc, then sprinkled with 2 plus some tablespoons sugar-cinnamon mixture. I used Frontier ® Coop Ceylon Cinnamon and regular granulated sugar. This process was repeated with the next two discs with all remaining cinnamon sugar mixture sprinkled onto the third disc. The forth disc was placed onto the stack of discs. A 3-inch biscuit cutter was placed in the center of the stack. With a pizza cutter, I nicked the edge of the stack to eye-ball measure out 16 strips. Once I was satisfied with an even sized 16 strips, I gently cut the stack from the center out with the pizza cutter from the edge of the biscuit cutter to the edge of the stack.

cutstrips (640x480)

Cut strips ready for braiding.

P1040917 (640x480)

This is the December bread. The strips were braided into eight braids. To braid, take two strips and twist thumbs out – wrists up twice, and pinch the ends together. I tucked the ends under.


P1040837 (640x480)

This is the November Bread ready to be placed on a baking sheet and raise.

Taking two strips I twisted the strips out (thumbs out, wrist up) twice. I pinched together and tucked under the ends of the two strips. I did this all the way around so there were eight braids. After removing the biscuit cutter, I slid the braided star from the pizza tin onto the parchment paper on a large cookie sheet. The star raised for about an hour.

After applying an egg wash, the bread baked for 15 minutes in a 400 F (204.4 C) oven. The result was beautiful. We had the still warm bread for Sunday evening supper dessert. No knife needed. You simply pull a braid from the center and you are served.

Cinnamon Star Bread

November Cinnamon Star Bread

On Christmas Eve 2017 I baked the Cinnamon Star Bread, again. After a conversation with my father, who is the baker in the family, I printed the ingredients listed by the gram from the King Arthur website. I weighed the dry ingredients and Parkey® margarine to the gram as listed on the ingredients list. This time I used the King Arthur all-purpose flour. Everything else was the same as the November baking. The lukewarm water (115 F or 46.1 C as listed on the instant yeast package) was still measured by volume. I do not know if it was because grams is more precise than measuring dry ingredients by volume, but the dough was a better quality dough after raising for 1 hour. The dough felt softer, and worked better on the kneading mat.

When it came time to layer the discs, I placed parchment paper onto the pizza tin to assist sliding the star bread onto the baking sheet . This arrangement worked wonderfully. After a one-hour raise and application of the egg wash before going into the oven, the star bread baked in 15 minutes.

DecCinnamonStarBread (640x542)

December Cinnamon Star Bread

A note of caution needs to be made when slicing the 16 strips. On one of the strips of the December star I sliced to far into the top disc and, I thought, it did not look right. I was not pleased with the look of the finished product. It was not as pretty as the November star bread. If you want a uniform center, be careful how you slice into the center for the braid strips.

Cinnamon Star Bread will be wonderful for potluck dinners. This bread should also do well at bake sales and silent auctions. If you want to impress the in-laws, this braided bread to do that. If you follow the instructions exactly, and apply the egg wash, the braided bread will look like the King Arthur Flour picture. The bread is best served with good quality coffee. A dark breakfast tea would also go well with this.

The #bakealong recipe can be located at

Lemony Snicket’s All the Wrong Questions series website is here:

Here is National Public Radio’s review of Heap House. You must read this book! As the reviewer Amal El-Mohtar points out, you do not want to read this book in a place where you are expected to be quiet.