At times, relief is looking at my bedside table and finding a nice thin book on the stack. And so much the better when it turns out to be an exceptional read!
One such a rare find was This Dark Road to Mercy by Wiley Cash. In a little over 200 pages, Cash makes you care deeply about a range of characters, but especially about sisters Easter and Ruby. Their already unfortunate life in foster care is interrupted by the appearance of Wade, a wayward father whose trail of misdeeds result in a long line of folks trying to find, hurt, and make him pay. Now he’s convincing his daughters to start a new life together. Next you’re caring about the girls’ guardian ad litem, Brady Walsh, whose dark past threatens to overwhelm him in his search for the girls. You even care about Wade, who started it all but has his own vulnerability and decisions to account for. The ending is masterful and fully satisfying for a reader wanting the best for all—except the really bad guys looking for the $1.4 million dollars, of course.
Another impressively written short novel is Last Night at the Lobster by Stewart O’Nan. In 146 pages, O’Nan transports us to a real world Red Lobster, now closing after many years amid all the residue and havoc a final day is wreaking upon the staff. Outside the world closes in as a snow storm rages on, while inside the building an intense drama is deeply moving and affecting. In a few short chapters, there is unforgettable bewilderment and finality.
The Housekeeper and the Professor by Japanese author, Yuko Ogawa, translated by Stephen Snyder, is a gem pure and simple. In 180 pages, the story of a little boy, Root, his mother, and the professor she works for, is poignant, surprising, and loving. You’re immediately thrust into the tragedy of short term memory loss, for which every 80 minutes is a new beginning for the professor. His friendship with Root and his mother create a quasi-family in the midst of devastating loss, and they are all profoundly changed by the interplay.
Best known for his door-stopper books, Stephen King’s first novel, Carrie, is the only one of his oeuvre that can boast 200 pages of pure terror. A classic among horror novels, King still makes you care intensely about this unforgettable teenager.
Consider these other “classics” written by masters of the English language, and realize how unique it is to write 100-200 pages of pure gold: The Red Pony by John Steinbeck (100 pgs), Animal Farm by George Orwell (113 pgs), The Lord of the Flies by William Golding (208 pgs), and The Old Man and the Sea by Ernest Hemingway (127 pgs). The contemporary authors above managing this same feat in their work are indeed in great company!