We all love a fat, juicy novel -- the kind of glorious stew that we can spend a whole rainy week of evenings inside savoring every delicious page.
But sometimes all that rich food can seem overwhelming. In those moments what we want is a fresh, sharp arugula salad (maybe with some fennel and lemon) of a novel: something clean and perfect that takes an afternoon and leaves us feeling brighter and all-together livelier.
The six novels on this page are each shorter than 200 pages and each packs a clean, brilliant punch. We think they're nearly perfect.
"The first day I had to go to the convent, I clung to Aunt Cora as you would cling to life if you loved it." from Wide Sargasso Sea by Jean Rhys
"Then summer came. A summer limp with the weight of blossomed things. Heavy sunflowers weeping over fences; iris curling and browning at the edges far away from their purple hearts; ears of corn letting their auburn hair wind down to their stalks. And the boys. The beautiful, beautiful boys who dotted the landscape like jewels, split the air with their shouts in the field, and thickened the river with their shining wet backs. Even their footsteps left a smell of smoke behind.
It was in that summer, the summer of their twelfth year, the summer of the beautiful black boys, that became skittish, frightened, and bold -- all at the same time.
In that mercury mood in July, Sula and Nel wandered about the Bottom looking for mischief." from Sula by Toni Morrison
"So great was the noise during the day that I used to lie awake at night listening to the silence. Eventually I fell asleep contented, filled with soundlessness, but while I was awake I enjoyed the experience of darkness, thought, memory, sweet anticipations. I heard the silence." from A Far Cry from Kensington by Muriel Spark
"As Iris stood outside the student union, opening a letter her parents had sent -- seventy-five dollars and a picture of Melody with it -- the revelation of her pregnancy came rushing back at her. Her father's sobbing, her mother's rage, the nuns, the neighbors, and finally, their church. . . ." from Red at the Bone by Jacqueline Woodson
"But first she needed to reach herself, first she needed to reach the world." from An Apprenticeship or The Book of Pleasures by Clarice Lispector
"There is no room in textbooks, among all the myriad battles and treaties, for history's wives. But she said about needing extra armor to protect herself, I never forgot it. It glowed in my mind. It guided my life like a sextant." from The Story of a Marriage by Andrew Sean Greer