Short books can feel more intimate, like an experience you lived through or a story you were told in the dark. This weekend, lose yourself in stunning short books that don’t skimp on character or narrative.
Long listed for the 2023 Booker Prize, Old God’s Time tells the story of recently retired policeman Tom Kettle who is settling into the quiet of his new home, a lean-to annexed to a Victorian castle overlooking the Irish Sea. For months he has barely seen a soul, until two former colleagues turn up at his door with questions about a decades-old case, one which Tom never solved and he finds himself pulled into the darkest currents of his past. A beautiful, haunting novel, in which nothing is quite as it seems.
Baldwin’s confessional, grave novel follows an engaged American man abroad who falls in love with what he’s forbidden himself: another man, an Italian, named Giovanni. Set in 1950s Paris, Giovanni’s Room is essential: a moving and exacting novel of ambiguity, remorse, and the difficulty of self-acceptance.
The Garretts take their first and last family vacation in the summer of 1959. They hardly ever leave home, but in some ways they have never been farther apart. Following their lives as they advance across decades, the Garretts’ influences on one another ripple ineffably but unmistakably through each generation. A stirring, uncannily insightful novel of tremendous warmth and humor that illuminates the kindnesses and cruelties of our daily lives, the impossibility of breaking free from those who love us, and how close — yet how unknowable — every family is to itself.
One morning, a man wakes up to find himself transformed. Overnight, Anders’s skin has turned dark, and the reflection in the mirror seems a stranger to him. At first, he shares his secret only with Oona, an old friend turned new lover. Soon, reports of similar events begin to surface. Across the land, people are awakening in new incarnations, uncertain how their neighbors, friends, and family will greet them. As the bond between Anders and Oona deepens, change takes on a different shading: a chance at a kind of rebirth–an opportunity to see ourselves, face to face, anew.
For Jenn Shapland, the barrier between herself and the world is porous; she was even diagnosed with extreme dermatologic sensitivity — thin skin. Recognizing how deeply vulnerable we all are to our surroundings, she becomes aware of the impacts our tiniest choices have on people, places, and species far away. Ceaselessly curious, uncompromisingly intelligent, and urgently seeking, Thin Skin firmly establishes Shapland as one of the sharpest essayists of her generation. (288 pages)
McGlue is Ottessa Moshfegh’s debut novella, and it sets up the sort of strangeness — and, at times, repulsiveness — we’ve come to expect in her later works. Set in 1851 Salem, Massachusetts, McGlue is in custody after allegedly and drunkenly killing his best friend. McGlue isn’t convicted of the crime, and his remorseless thoughts drive the engine of this slow-burning narrative. (160 pages)
In the summer of 1855, Sarah Brinton makes the long and difficult journey from Rhode Island to the Minnesota Territory. When she arrives without family or friends, she quickly marries and has two children. Anticipating unease at the Indian Agency, where her husband is the new resident physician, Sarah instead finds acceptance and kinship among the Sioux women at the nearby reservation. When the Sioux Uprising of 1862 erupts, Sarah and her children are abducted by the Sioux, who protect her, but because she sympathizes with her captors, Sarah becomes an outcast to the white settlers. In the end, she is lost to both worlds. Intimate and raw, The Lost Wife is a searing tale of the conquest of the American West. (192 pages)
In this lyrical meditation of grief, Han Kang’s unnamed narrator wanders around the snow-filled city of Warsaw while she muses on all things white, from the innocuous — a silent dog — to the profound and devastating — the rice cake-colored skin of the baby who died in the narrator’s mother’s arms long ago, an event inspired by Kang’s family history. Beautiful and impossible to pin down, it’s a remarkably absorbing read. (160 pages)
When twenty-seven-year-old Joan Bergstrom sends a fan letter — as well as a gift of saffron — to fifty-nine-year-old Imogen Fortier, a life-changing friendship begins. Joan lives in Los Angeles and is just starting out as a writer for the newspaper food pages. Imogen lives outside Seattle, writing a monthly column for a Pacific Northwest magazine. As the two women commune through their letters, they build a closeness that sustains them through life’s uncertainties. A brief respite from our chaotic world, Love & Saffron is a gem of a novel, a reminder that food and friendship are the antidote to most any heartache, and that human connection will always be worth creating. (224 pages)
Khristen is a teenager who,her mother believes, was marked by greatness as a baby when she died for a moment and then came back to life. After Khristen’s failing boarding school for gifted teens closes its doors, and she finds that her mother has disappeared, she ranges across the dead landscape and washes up at a “resort” on the shores of a mysterious, putrid lake the elderly residents there call “Big Girl.” Rivetingly strange and beautiful, and delivered with Williams’s searing, deadpan wit, Harrow is their intertwined tale of paradise lost and of their reasons — against all reasonableness — to try and recover something of it. (224 pages)
The swimmers are unknown to one another except through their private routines (slow lane, medium lane, fast lane) and the solace each takes in their morning or afternoon laps. But when a crack appears at the bottom of the pool, they are cast out into an unforgiving world without comfort or relief. (272 pages)
This is the story of a woman in search of herself, in every sense. When we first meet Ruby, a Métis woman in her thirties, her life is spinning out of control. She’s angling to sleep with her counselor while also rekindling an old relationship she knows will only bring more heartache. But as we soon learn, Ruby’s story is far more complex than even she can imagine. Probably Ruby is a dazzling novel about a bold, unapologetic woman taking control of her life and story, and marks the debut of a major new voice in Indigenous fiction. (288 pages)
Korede’s sister Ayoola is many things: the favorite child, the beautiful one, possibly sociopathic. And now Ayoola’s third boyfriend in a row is dead, stabbed through the heart with Ayoola’s knife. Korede’s practicality is the sisters’ saving grace … not that she gets any credit. Korede has long been in love with a kind, handsome doctor at the hospital where she works. But when he asks Korede for Ayoola’s phone number, she must reckon with what her sister has become and how far she’s willing to go to protect her. (240 pages)
When thirty-four-year-old Ms. Shibata gets a new job to escape sexual harassment at her old one, she finds that as the only woman at her new workplace — a manufacturer of cardboard tubes — she is expected to do all the menial tasks. One day she announces that she can’t clear away her coworkers’ dirty cups — because she’s pregnant and the smell nauseates her. The only thing is … Ms. Shibata is not pregnant. Surreal and absurdist, and with a winning matter-of-factness, a light touch, and a refreshing sensitivity to mental health, Diary of a Void will keep you turning the pages to see just how far Ms. Shibata will carry her deception for the sake of women, and especially working mothers, everywhere. (224 pages)
A young woman named Amanda lies dying in a rural hospital clinic. A boy named David sits beside her. She’s not his mother. He’s not her child. Together, they tell a haunting story of broken souls, toxins, and the power and desperation of family. Fever Dream is a nightmare come to life, a ghost story for the real world, a love story, and a cautionary tale… (192 pages)
Susan Minot’s first book chronicles the Vincents, a sprawling New England family of nine: a religious mother, an alcoholic father, and their seven “monkeys.” A minimalist novel-in-stories, each chapter lurches forward with new conflicts and deceptions, mining the tenderness and tragedy of a family so extensive they’re cocooned in their own universe, for better or worse. (176 pages)
Welcome to the Coral Lounge, a room in Helen Ellis’s apartment painted such an exuberant shade that a Peeping Tom left a sticky note asking for the color. It is in the Coral Lounge where all the parties happen. And when the pandemic shuts down the city, the Coral Lounge becomes a place of refuge, where Helen and her husband binge-watch movies, dote on two spoiled cats, and where Helen discovers that even twenty years into marriage, her husband still makes her heart pitter patter. (224 pages)
Jenny Offill’s much-loved portrait of a marriage at its breaking point — as funny as it is heartbreaking — can be read in a single sitting, but don’t be surprised if you feel the need to immediately start again from the beginning. Invoking the code name they once used in love letters about their bright and unknown future, the wife addresses her husband and attempts to make sense of how they’ve gotten to now. (192 pages)
A canny young woman is struggling to survive by perpetrating various levels of mostly harmless fraud. On a rainy April morning, she is reading auras at Spiritual Palms when Susan Burke walks in. However, when the “psychic” visits the eerie Victorian home that has been the source of Susan’s terror and grief, she realizes she may not have to pretend to believe in ghosts anymore. Miles, Susan’s teenage stepson, doesn’t help matters with his disturbing manner and grisly imagination. The three are soon locked in a chilling battle to discover where the evil truly lurks and what, if anything, can be done to escape it. (64 pages)
Julian Barnes wrote Levels of Life after the death of his wife, and the tripartite book consists of three sections: one history, one fiction, and one memoir. The final section, in which Barnes writes candidly about the emotions that have consumed him since his wife’s death, is so precise in expressing grief — a universal yet indefinable emotion — that it will leave you reeling. (144 pages)
On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous is a letter from a son to a mother who cannot read. Written when the speaker, Little Dog, is in his late twenties, the letter unearths a family’s history that began before he was born — a history whose epicenter is rooted in Vietnam — and serves as a doorway into parts of his life his mother has never known, all of it leading to an unforgettable revelation. This stunning work is as much about the power of telling one’s own story as it is about the obliterating silence of not being heard. (256 pages)
In spare yet rich prose, Zinzi Clemmons reflects on race, family, and grief through the lens of Thandi, a young mixed-race woman coming of age in America, watching her mother die of cancer, and moving through life without the person she needs most. Thandi’s search for meaning and her reflections on her mother’s childhood in Johannesburg merge into a multigenerational tale of lost and remade identity. (224 pages)
What if your two favorite people hated each other with a passion? Long-standing tensions between a husband, his wife, and her best friend finally come to a breaking point in this sharp domestic comedy of manners, told brilliantly over the course of one day. (192 pages)
An interpreter has come to The Hague to escape New York and work at the International Court. A woman of many languages and identities, she is looking for a place to finally call home. She confronts power, love, and violence, both in her personal intimacies and in her work at the Court. She is soon pushed to the precipice, where betrayal and heartbreak threaten to overwhelm her, forcing her to decide what she wants from her life. (240 pages)
Over the course of a single year, our nameless narrator heroically tries to keep her small brood of four chickens alive despite the seemingly endless challenges that caring for other creatures entails. From the forty-below nights of a brutal Minnesota winter to a sweltering summer that brings a surprise tornado, she battles predators, bad luck, and the uncertainty of a future that may not look anything like the one she always imagined. A stunning and brilliantly insightful meditation on life and longing, Brood rewards its readers with the richness of reflection and unrelenting hope. (240 pages)
Kazu is dead. Born in Fukushima in 1933, the same year as the Japanese Emperor, his life is tied by a series of coincidences to the Imperial family and has been shaped at every turn by modern Japanese history. But his life story is also marked by bad luck, and now, in death, he is unable to rest, doomed to haunt the park near Ueno Station in Tokyo. Through Kazu’s eyes, we see daily life in Tokyo buzz around him and learn the intimate details of his personal story, how loss and society’s inequalities and constrictions spiraled towards this ghostly fate, with moments of beauty and grace just out of reach. (192 pages)
Nel and Sula’s devotion is fierce enough to withstand bullies and the burden of a dreadful secret. It endures even after Nel has grown up to be a pillar of the black community and Sula has become a pariah. But their friendship ends in an unforgivable betrayal — or does it end? Terrifying, comic, ribald, and tragic, Sula is a work that overflows with life. (192 pages)
When a woman unexpectedly loses her lifelong best friend and mentor, she finds herself burdened with the unwanted dog he has left behind. Her own battle against grief is intensified by the mute suffering of the dog, a huge Great Dane traumatized by the inexplicable disappearance of its master, and by the threat of eviction: dogs are prohibited in her apartment building. While others worry that grief has made her a victim of magical thinking, the woman refuses to be separated from the dog except for brief periods of time. Elegiac and searching, The Friend is both a meditation on loss and a celebration of human-canine devotion. (224 pages)
Eve has an adoring girlfriend, an impulsive streak, and a secret fear that she’s wasting her brief youth with just one person. So one evening she posts some nudes online. This is how Eve meets Olivia and through Olivia the charismatic Nathan. Despite her better instincts, the three soon begin a relationship — one that disturbs Eve as much as it enthralls her. In the way only great fiction can, Acts of Service takes between its teeth the contradictions written all over our ideas of sex and sexuality. (240 pages)