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Books you can read in a weekend: 'All Grown Up,' 'The Sense of An Ending,' more

Everyone loves a long, immersive novel you can sink into for weeks at a time — witness the popularity of heavy-hitters such as Donna Tartt’s “The Goldfinch” or Garth Risk Hallberg’s “City on Fire.” But sometimes you just need a quick fiction hit — a slim, satisfying novel you can read in a weekend and then move on. Here are some recommendations, all fewer than 200 pages long. 

'Heather, the Totality,' by Matthew Weiner

HEATHER, THE TOTALITY, by Matthew Weiner. If you
Photo Credit: Little, Brown

If you thought Don Draper was an antihero, wait till you meet the unredeemable protagonists of this first novel by the creator of “Mad Men.” Mark and Karen Breakstone are well-heeled, soulless contemporary New Yorkers whose ZIP code is “almost number one on the list of the wealthiest in the country.” When they renovate their apartment, Mark catches a scary, skinhead worker eyeing their daughter, Heather — and all his primal, violent male instincts kick in. (Little, Brown; $25)

'All the Dirty Parts,' by Daniel Handler

You've been warned: This grown-up novel by the
Photo Credit: Bloomsbury

You’ve been warned: This grown-up novel by the author better known as Lemony Snicket delivers exactly what the title promises. To say teenage narrator Cole loves sex would be an understatement: He’s obsessed — and he’s having a lot of it. With the girls in his high school — a lot of them. Ambivalently, with his best friend, Alec. And just when you think he’s the heartless cad all the high school girls say he is, Cole begins a relationship with Grisaille, a self-possessed foreign student who will awaken feelings beyond his default lust, delivering a sentimental education to our heedless protagonist. (Bloomsbury, $22)

'The Last Laugh,' by Lynn Freed

THE LAST LAUGH, Lynn Freed. Ideally, a book
Photo Credit: FSG

Ideally, a book set on a Greek island should feel like a quick vacation, and Freed’s lightweight comedy sure does. Three friends, this side of their 70th birthdays, decamp for a year, hoping to escape their children, grandchildren, exes, and patients (one of the three is an Israeli psychiatrist.) Ruth, a South African mystery novelist who has just killed off the protagonist of her series, tells the story, including journal excerpts and dispatches from “Granny Au Go Go,” her magazine column. Part of the fun is casting these roles in your mind; I want Debra Winger, Kathy Bates and Diane Keaton. (FSG, $25)

'A Loving, Faithful Animal,' by Josephine Rowe

A LOVING, FAITHFUL ANIMAL, by Josephine Rowe. In
Photo Credit: Catapult

In just 165 pages, this debut novel from Australia fully conjures a broken family in the southeastern countryside near Melbourne. It is New Year’s Eve 1990: Vietnam vet Jack — haunted by the war and physically abusive — has performed one of his semiregular disappearing acts. Wife Evelyn is trapped by memories of happier times, while Jack’s brother, Les — who got out of military service — hovers, ghostlike, on the periphery of the family. Daughter Ru finds escape in her own interior world, while her sister Lani experiments with sex and drugs. Although the prose is lyrical and impressionistic, these characters are solidly real. (Catapult, $16.95 paper)

'Sisters,' by Lily Tuck

Photo Credit: Atlantic Monthly Press

“First and second wives are like sisters,” reads the epigraph of this novella from National Book Award winner Tuck — if sisterhood begins with competition and obsession and ends with jealous fury, with no love lost between. From the moment we meet the unnamed narrator, she can think of little but her predecessor: when she cannot sleep, instead of counting sheep, she works on estimating the number of times she (always printed in italics) and the husband made love. She finds an excuse to visit her apartment, works on bonding with her children . . . It’s as unhealthy as it sounds, and then some. (Atlantic Monthly Press, $20) 

'Goodbye, Vitamin,' by Rachel Khong

GOODBYE, VITAMIN, by Rachel Khong. Newly dumped by
Photo Credit: Henry Holt

Newly dumped by her fiance, Ruth moves home to help care for her father, Howard, a college professor incapacitated by dementia. Wry, spare vignettes spread over the course of a year document Howard’s decline and the sweet slapstick of Ruth’s attempts to cushion it. By including pages from a notebook Howard kept documenting Ruth’s childhood, the book captures a particularly poignant aspect of their role reversal: just as he once documented a Ruth that existed before her memories, she is the custodian and scribe of his story now. An unusually gentle and funny story about this difficult topic. (Henry Holt, $26)

'A Horse Walks Into a Bar,' by David Grossman

This winner of the Man Booker International Prize
Photo Credit: Knopf

This winner of the Man Booker International Prize made its way from Hebrew to English (in a translation by Jessica Cohen) with its manic colloquial energy intact and its wildly offensive jokes going strong. It’s set in a bar in the little Israeli town of Netanya, where a retired judge has been mysteriously invited by a shock jock named Dovaleh G. to come to his show. The whole novel is composed of that night’s routine and the judge’s slow realization that oh, yes, he does know this guy. Emotionally intense, politically incorrect and deeply sad. (Knopf, $25.95)

'All Grown Up,' by Jami Attenberg

"All Grown Up" by Jami Attenberg (Houghton Mifflin
Photo Credit: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt

The author of “The Middlesteins” has hit her stride with this novel-in-stories about single life in New York — call it “Girls” for late 30- and 40-somethings. The trenchant voice of Andrea Bern, erstwhile MFA painting student turned well-paid professional, joins a club of wry, intelligent narrators fashioned by writers such as Lorrie Moore, Julie Hecht and Heidi Julavits: anti-romantic yet warm, independent but deeply attached to her mother, self-deprecating but always hopeful about the possibilities. (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, $25) 

'Ghachar Ghochar,' by Vivek Shanbhag

"Ghachar Ghochar" by Vivek Shanbhag (Penguin, February 2017)
Photo Credit: Penguin

The title of this deft, abbreviated novel from India is a made-up phrase coined by one of its characters, meaning something that is hopeless knotted or tangled. That would refer to the family of the narrator, once poor and living in a dark Bangalore cottage overrun by ants, now elevated to the upper middle class by the successful spice business of an unmarried uncle. In India, as in all nations, money brings complications and internecine conflict. Translated from the Kannada by Srinath Perur. (Penguin, $15 paper)

'Mothering Sunday,' by Graham Swift

"Mothering Sunday" by Graham Swift (Vintage)
Photo Credit: Vintage

This deliciously sly book about the strictures of class in England and the passing of old traditions, opens on a hot spring day in 1924, as young housemaid Jane Fairchild conducts a clandestine tryst with the engaged-to-be-married scion of a neighboring estate while all the family and servants have vacated for the titular holiday. At once frankly sexual and philosophical, the novel burrows deep into Jane’s consciousness, uncovering the intelligence and perceptiveness that will one day transform her life. (Vintage, $15 paper)

'The Private Life of Mrs Sharma,' by Ratika Kapur

“The Private Life of Mrs. Sharma” by Ratika
Photo Credit: Bloomsbury

Mrs. Sharma, a medical receptionist in New Delhi, is overworked, underappreciated and lonely. Her husband works overseas; she lives with their rebellious teenage son in his parents’ tiny apartment. Against this unhappy backdrop, she meets a nice younger man on the metro. What’s a mother to do? She shares all her thoughts, impulsive choices and rationalizations in this intimate, funny and shocking confession. (Bloomsbury, $16 paper) 

'The Sense of an Ending,' by Julian Barnes

“The Sense of an Ending” by Julian Barnes
Photo Credit: Vintage

Both a meditation on aging and regret and an intense psychological drama, Barnes’ story revolves around a 60ish man who is surprised to learn he has inherited a diary kept by a school friend who committed suicide some years ago. This fact alone calls into question his memories of his past, and things only get murkier as he tries to wrest the diary from an ex-girlfriend who got to it first. (Vintage, $15 paper) 

'Dept. of Speculation,' by Jenny Offill

"Dept. of Speculation" by Jeny Offill (Vintage, 2014)
Photo Credit: Vintage

An appealing, elegant and relatable book about love, marriage, early motherhood and infidelity, written as a journal in short, luminous paragraphs. Facing not just the sorrow of her husband’s betrayal, but also bedbugs and stalled literary ambitions — you guessed it, we’re in Brooklyn — “the wife,” as she calls herself, is sustained by her wry sense of humor and her intellectual curiosity. (Vintage, $15 paper) 

'We the Animals,' by Justin Torres

"We the Animals" by Justin Torres (Mariner, 2011)
Photo Credit: Mariner

Told by a narrator growing up in a dead-end town with two older brothers, a dad who’s abusive when he’s around and an adored, overwhelmed mom who works nights at the brewery, this coming-of-age story gets its power from shimmering, image-rich language and the rough-and-tumble energy of its action. As the narrator begins to realize he is gay, the claustrophobic bonds of this family cannot hold. (Mariner, $12.95 paper)

'The Reluctant Fundamentalist,' by Mohsin Hamid

"The Reluctant Fundamentalist" by Moshin Hamid (Mariner 2007)
Photo Credit: Mariner

A Pakistani man, sitting in a cafe in Lahore, addresses this story over tea to a mysterious American — and by extension to the reader — in an indelible novel by the author of “Exit West." Changez recalls his education at Princeton (one of two Pakistanis in his class), his job at a boutique Manhattan financial firm and his romance with a privileged young woman from the Upper East Side. And then the events of Sept. 11, 2001, alter Changez’s position in America — and his most firmly held beliefs. (Mariner, $14.95 paper)


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