Shorter

by Neil Fein

Theories about why long books are in vogue now: Books are more expensive, and readers’ wallets open when they think they’re getting more for their money. Established authors have more say over the length of their books; as their careers lengthen, their spines widen.

Take your pick.

We’re getting more for our money, yes. But we miss out on the pleasures of the very short novel. Here are some of my favorites:

The narrator of Night is the author, more or less. The story of the Holocaust is familiar to us because of this book by Elie Wiesel, along with one or two others. I read its 100 pages in one night of lying on a couch, a single lamp illuminating my lap.

As Eliezer sees his father crumble, the family is herded towards and through the camps. His father diminishes in Eliezar’s eyes, along with God. “I pray to the God within me that He will give me the strength to ask Him the right questions.” The language is plain, unadorned, but it does just this: It asks the right questions, at the right time, and its lulling, staccato rhythm submerged me in doubt and horror.

Fahrenheit 451, by Ray Bradbury is barely 140 pages long. In this tale of book burning and memory, there’s a relentless forgetting of times and things, and losing ones self in the chaos of the everyday. The fireman Montague eventually decides to find the past, but it’s a hard trip. “The zipper displaces the button and a man lacks just that much time to think while dressing at dawn, a philosophical hour, and thus a melancholy hour.”

“Muriel read the commandment for her. It ran: ‘No animal shall kill any other animal without cause.” In Animal Farm, the grotesque humans and the pigs that become their surrogates embody George Orwell’s message throughout all his works. That message? Prosperity will erode freedom. Over the books’ 128 pages, we see the evolution of party lines and bureaucracy will turn the most ardent freedom-loving animal revolutionary into an orderly, obfuscating administrator.

A short novel will have a tighter focus, a smaller field of view; but at the same time, it has more room for character and setting than a short story. A book of this length may be scorned by publishers and publicists, but I often find that the epitome of the novel exists at this length.


Neil Fein is a freelance editor who specializes in novels. If you’ve written a manuscript or are getting close to finishing, you can get in touch with him here, and even ask for a free sample edit.

He’s also the guitarist in the band Baroque & Hungry, who are performing in Bridgewater, New Jersey later this week; he rides his bicycle as much as he can, and he paints when the mood strikes him. He’s also available for hire as a live audio engineer. 

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