7 Single-Sitting Stunners

Very short novels for a very busy world.

short novels

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I recently sat down to read Max Porter’s extremely well-acclaimed novel Grief is the Thing with Feathers, a genre blend of essay, poetry, and fable, and without once moving from my position, I devoured the entire thing. The experience—of both the beauty of Porter’s writing and the book’s short length—gave me that rare and satisfying feeling of wholeness, of having internalized an entire narrative with all the varied undulations of its emotional trajectory, the sensation of getting in one fell swoop the intentions of an artist’s work. Short stories can yield such a sense of completeness, but these for economical reasons often don’t (or can’t to the same extent) allow the reader enough empathetic exposure to the character to invest in their plight and their humanity—we’re usually given the plight.

But a short novel—long enough to settle into a character’s interiority but short enough to finish in one sitting—might be the ideal book, an unacknowledged paragon of literary enterprise, a reader’s dream. Think about it: you can race through a bunch of them (always a plus for a reader) and they offer all the accouterments of longer novels. Moreover, like Grief is the Thing with Feathers, a short novel can get away with a lot more experimentation and lyricism than its lengthier counterpart, as its very briefness prevents (or at least lessens) the chance that an unusual technique or a peculiar premise will wear out a reader’s textual generosity. So, inspired by Max Porter’s brilliant, devastating, and short novel, here are seven additional novels you can ingest like a light snack or an appetizer, but one that mysteriously fills you up like the biggest piece of steak you’ve ever eaten.

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About Jonathan Russell Clark

Jonathan Russell Clark

JONATHAN RUSSELL CLARK is a literary critic. He is a staff writer for Literary Hub , and a regular contributor to The Georgia Review and The Millions. His work has appeared in The New York Times Book Review, Tin House, The Atlantic, The New Republic, LA Review of Books, The Rumpus, Chautauqua, PANK, and numerous others. His essays have been mentioned in The Guardian, NPR.org, BBC.com, Bookforum.com, Electric Literature, Word Riot, Poets & Writers, and as one of Katie Couric’s Katie’s FYI. Born in Tulsa, Oklahoma and raised in Columbus, Ohio, Clark was educated at the University of Oxford, the University of Nevada in Las Vegas, UMass Boston, and the University of North Carolina Wilmington.

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