November will be year 17 of National Novel Writing Month. (I promise “NaNoWriMo” has a certain ring to it after you say it enough times!) Those who finish the challenge write rough drafts of at least 50,000 words during the month of November. Whether you’re NaNoWriMo-curious or a seasoned finisher, be sure to check the calendar for events at both the Columbia and the Callaway County Public Libraries, including starter sessions later this month and write-ins in November.
The thought of writers across the nation sharpening their pencils (okay, double-clicking on the shortcut for their word-processing program of choice) makes me want to read short novels. Here are a few I have loved.
A longstanding high school assignment, F. Scott Fitzgerald’s “The Great Gatsby,” deserves a read post-adolescence. Forget Gatsby and Daisy — this tale of the excesses of the 1920s and the enduring truths of human nature owes its charm to the stunning narration of Midwestern outsider Nick Carraway.
Recounting the events of only a few days in the 1940s-era South, Carson McCullers’ “The Member of the Wedding” is a masterful portrait of the ignoble experiences of adolescence. At 12, Frankie’s only companions are Berenice, the maid, and John Henry, her 6-year-old cousin, but her brother’s upcoming nuptials bring a desperate agitation to an otherwise tedious summer.
Published in 1970, “Play It As It Lays” by Joan Didion is a quintessential Los Angeles novel. Separated from her husband and her institutionalized daughter, Maria Wyeth drives the freeways methodically and yet without hope of arriving anywhere or escaping the void that is her life. Maria’s journey is told in extremely short chapters, the white space on the page mirroring her emotional landscape.
Remember the first Mrs. Rochester in “Jane Eyre“? Jean Rhys reimagines her story in “Wide Sargasso Sea.” With language as lush as the Caribbean setting, Rhys gives a voice not only to Antoinette (Bertha’s birth name) but also to Mr. Rochester. This alternate literary history proffers the blossoming — and withering — romance that inevitably led to the tragedy at the Rochester mansion.
It seems appropriate to include an autobiographical novel about a young writer. Set against 1930s Los Angeles, John Fante’s “Ask the Dust” is the story of Arturo Bandini’s struggles to write, to find love and, frankly, to be able to afford enough to eat. (Charles Bukowski considered Fante his principal literary influence; his short introduction to “Ask the Dust” is not be skipped.)
What are your favorite short novels? Leave a comment below if you’d like to share a recommendation or two!