Here’s a list for the time-challenged among us who like little books that make a big noise. These small scale books made the cut for their exceptional power, grace and complexity. They are dark and philosophical, witty and profound, and they’re short—all under 150 pages.
1. Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad – This dense, psychological story is about colonialist greed and what it means to be “civilized”.
2. Train Dreams by Denis Johnson – Robert Grainier, the protagonist of this period novella, is a beautifully drawn character who takes his time laboring in a turn-of-the-century America where nothing stays the same for long, and people who don’t have much can lose everything in an instant.
3. The Hour of the Star by Clarice Lispector – The story of a young woman who plays out the process of her own creation in the real time of the novel. It is tragic, beautiful and heartbreaking.
4. Sleepless Nights by Elizabeth Hardwick – Nonlinear and essentially plotless, this autobiographical novel is held together by the sheer power of the writing, the occasionally returning characters, and the candid emotion of its alternating narrative and reportorial style.
5. The Plains by Gerald Murnane – Multilayered, puzzling, elegant and fascinating, Murnane has been called one of the most interesting living writers.
6. The Beauty of the Husband by Anne Carson – The book tells the story of a first marriage falling apart, complete with grief and betrayal, nostalgia and longing.
7. Miss Lonelyhearts by Nathanael West – This Depression-era tragicomedy sets all the grotesque suffering of Dante’s Divine Comedy in motion around a New York newsroom on the day its titular protagonist’s faith begins to show cracks.
8. The Missing Year of Juan Salvatierra by Pedro Mairal – This simple mystery is constructed cleverly in the pattern of Juan Salvatierra’s scrolls: the story flows from one chapter to the next, like the movement of the Uruguay River bordering Salvatierra’s hometown of Barrancales, Argentina.
9. Not to Disturb by Muriel Spark – This oft-overlooked gothic novella is about servants implicating themselves in a murder being carried out by their Baron and Baroness in a room they’re not allowed to enter.
10. Ethan Frome by Edith Wharton – It’s hard to imagine a more poetic tragedy than Ethan Frome or a writer more poetic than Edith Wharton.
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