The protagonist of The Invoice leads a simple life: a part-time job at a video store, a tiny apartment, a love of movies. He’s satisfied with his bare-bones existence until the government introduces a “happiness tax,” leaving him, an underachiever, owing quite a bit more than anyone at the top. Refreshingly odd, with a distinctive voice and gentle humor, The Invoice speaks volumes about the capacity for joy and what it lends us.
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.
Baldwin’s confessional, grave novel follows an engaged American man abroad in Paris 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 exact novel of ambiguity, remorse, and the difficulty of self-acceptance.
Levels of Life
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—an emotion famously universal yet hard to express—that it will leave you reeling.
Short novels are special. Able to be consumed in a night or a weekend, they feel more intimate, like an experience you lived through or a story you were told in the dark. I love a seven-hundred-page masterpiece as much as the next binge-reader, but huge books can be a specific taste, best consumed in long stretches of uninterrupted days. In the depths of summer, weekend trips abound, attention spans shorten, and it’s the perfect time to pay respect to the art of the short novel. Here are fourteen sparkling slim novels that reach for brilliance, full on character, narrative, and stunning prose, in two hundred pages or less.