Tuesday, September 21, 2010

50 Books, 150 Pages or Less: Part 2 of 3

Great novels do not have to be long. Look for part three in the coming months and check out part one for more recommendations.

Being There by Jerzy Kosinski

142 pages

Time Magazine's original review of this modern classic by Kosinski called it "a tantalizing knuckle ball of a book delivered with perfectly timed satirical hops and metaphysical flutters." Blatantly satirical without being heavy-handed, Being There tells the story of the meteoric rise of Chauncy Gardiner from simple gardener to media celebrity and vice presidential candidate. The movie adaptation starring Peter Sellers is also available at the library.

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Intimacy by Hanif Kureishi

118 pages

Kureichi's novel, which provoked controversy in Britain when it was first published, is the tormented but lyrical interior monologue of a man contemplating leaving his wife. According to Booklist, "Intimacy brilliantly explores love's dying throes." Publishers Weekly called it "a devastating and insightful portrait of how betrayal can become a form of self-renewal."

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Disquiet by Julia Leigh

120 pages

A woman visits her mother's chateau for the first time in a decade with her two young children. They are quickly joined by her brother and sister-in-law, who have arrived with the corpse of their still-born baby. Disquiet is a suspenseful family drama that edges into horror. USA Today called it a "powerful, audacious, even shocking portrait of familial decay," saying that, "Leigh has packed so much nuance into 121 taut pages that you finish the slim volume and immediately want to read it again."

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The Fifth Child by Doris Lessing

133 pages

In Nobel Prize-winner Lessing's contemporary gothic, the domestic idyll of Harriet and David Lovatt is thrown horrifically off-balance by the birth of their fifth child--a shriveled goblin of an infant who only becomes more ferocious and deformed,physically and morally,as he ages. When The Fifth Child was originally published in 1988, The New York Times called it a "horror story of maternity and the nightmare of social collapse" that was "destined to become a minor classic."

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Carte Blanche by Carlo Lucarelli

108 pages

In the final year of World War II, Commissario De Luca investigates the torture and murder of a well-connected drug dealer, diving into the murky, interconnected depths of crime and politics in late fascist Italy. Part one of a trilogy by Lucarelli, a wildly popular crime writer in his native Italy, Carte Blanche is gritty noir that Kirkus Reviews called a "smart and stylish crime yarn" from an "Italian noir master." Followed by The Damned Season and Via Delle Oche.

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Esther's Inheritance by Sándor Márai

148 pages

After a twenty year absence, the love of Esther's life has returned with his adult children and a mysterious woman to whom he is apparently indebted. Lajos, a charismatic con man who married Esther's sister instead of Esther and disappeared after her sister's death, has come to ask a favor that it is difficult for Esther to refuse.

Márai was one of Hungary's leading literary novelists in the 1930s. A committed pacifist, he survived World War II only to be driven out of the country by its new communist regime, dying in obscurity in San Diego many years later. His novels have only recently appeared in English, to wide critical acclaim.

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Shopgirl by Steve Martin

130 pages

The bittersweet first novel by actor Steve Martin. Lonely, shy Mirabelle, who sells gloves at a Beverly Hills department store, catches the eye of millionaire Ray Porter. The New York Times called Martin's novel ''elegant, bleak, desolatingly sad", and ''Martin's most achieved work to date.''

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Driving Lessons by Ed McBain

72 pages

Publishers Weekly called Driving Lessons "a complex tale of human frailty, with nary a wasted word," with a resolution that is "as shocking as it is unexpected." When a sixteen-year-old accidently runs down a pedestrian during a driving lesson, two facts are apparent to the police: that the driving inspector, though he passes a breathalyser test, appears to be drunk, and that victum is his wife.

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The Comfort of Strangers by Ian McEwan

127 pages

This early novel by one of Britain's most acclaimed authors was praised by The New York Times for its "originality, vividness, wit and power to intrigue." Colin and Mary, an unmarried couple vacationing in an unnamed European city, put their trust in a stranger onlt to be drawn into his violent fantasies.

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Mr. Thundermug by Cornelius Medvei

105 pages

This "case history", complete with photographs and drawings, tells the story of Mr. Thundermug, an oragutan with "an unsettling mastery of human speech" whose attempt to live in a London-like city with his wife and children is met with no small amount of scorn and misunderstanding. Publishers Weekly called Medvei's novel a "gently affecting and often funny allegory of the outsider."

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My Happy Life: A Novel by Lydia Millet

150 pages

Abandoned in a locked room in a mental hospital, Millet's nameless narrator recalls a life full of gross misfortune in a deceptively simple, unstintingly optimistic voice that slowly reveals, instead of pitiful naivety, tremendous strength and wisdom. Publishers Weekly called My Happy Life a "courageous and memorable achievement."

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Who Will Run the Frog Hospital? by Lorrie Moore

147 pages

A disenchented middle-aged women remembers a summer of adolescent rebellion in Moore's poignant, acidly funny novel about growing older. The New York Times called Moore's book "a sad, witty, disillusioned fairy tale" with the power to make readers laugh and cry.

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The Painter of Signs by R.K. Narayan

142 pages

The Painter of Signs is a wry, bittersweet love story from celebrated Indian novelist Narayan that The Times of London called "subtle, vivid …also extremely funny." After being hired to paint signs for a new new clinic, Raman falls in love--despite his best intentions and the advice of those around him--with a young, progressively-minded woman named Daisy who is dedicated to bringing birth control to the area.

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Fire in the Blood by Irène Némirovsky

137 pages

One of a handful of manuscripts discovered and translated long after Némirovsky perished at Auschwitz, Fire in the Blood is an intimate portrait of love and passion in a rural French village. Library Journal called it an "exquisitely wrought tale" that posesses "the power of myth."

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Beasts by Joyce Carol Oates

138 pages

The narrator of Oates' gothic tale, a student at an all-girls college in New England, is obsessed with her poetry teacher and his sculptor wife. BookList said of Beasts that "Oates' control of this smart, steely tale of the baser side of human nature is absolute, as are its dark and scintillating pleasures."

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The Stones Cry Out by Hikaru Okuizumi

138 pages

The first of Okuizumi's novels to be translated into English and the winner of Japan's most prestigious literary award, The Stones Cry Out tells the story of a Japanese World War II veteran whose traumatic experience lingers long after the war's end. Publishers Weekly called it a "lyrical, riveting study of obsession, family disintegration and war's dehumanizing effects."

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Last Night at the Lobster by Stewart O'Nan

146 pages

Blurbing Last Night at the Lobster, Stephen King called it "A deeply moving novel about how we work, how we live, and how we get to the next day with our spirits intact." Manny DeLeon, the manager of a Connecticut Red Lobster slated to close for underperforming, reflects on his personal and professional life while trying to make his restaurant's last day of business perfect.

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