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Books you can read in a weekend: 21 editor's picks

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. 
 

‘Last Night in Nuuk’ by Niviaq Korneliussen

This book, the "Cat Person" of Greenland, gives
Photo Credit: Black Cat

This book, the "Cat Person" of Greenland, gives an un-Photoshopped view of the lives of young people wrestling with their sexuality and their claustrophobic small town of a country. After winning a prestigious short story prize when the author was 22, then being published as a book, "Last Night in Nuuk" sold double the number of copies required to become a bestseller in Greenland — 2000, instead of 1,000. Each of five entangled characters gets a chance at the mic — a gay journalist in hiding from scandal; his sister, who's leaving her husband; a lesbian couple on the rocks; a bisexual party girl addicted to trouble. Lacing the narrative are journal entries, letters, texts and hashtags. Translated by Anna Halager. (Black Cat, $16 paper) — MARION WINIK

‘Ghost Wall’ by Sarah Moss

Silvie is the daughter of a bus driver
Photo Credit: FSG

Silvie is the daughter of a bus driver who spends his annual vacation taking his family into the woods to re-enact the primitive lifestyle of the Britons of the Iron Age. This year they've joined up with a professor and his students, the latter a bit balky when it comes to wearing scratchy tunics, beheading rabbits and foraging for tubers. Silvie, who is her father's daughter in complicated ways, is both drawn to the rich city kids and irritated by them, and what plays out is “My Absolute Darling” meets “Lord of the Flies,” an immersive, atavistic rager of a story. (FSG, $22) — MARION WINIK

‘The Parade’ by Dave Eggers

A taut political fable about two foreign contractors,
Photo Credit: Knopf

A taut political fable about two foreign contractors, alias Four and Nine, sent to pave a highway connecting north to south in a country where warring factions have recently made peace; they must finish in time for a celebratory national parade. Four is undeviating in his allegiance to the regulations governing their every move; Nine is a carefree swashbuckler out to experience the cuisines and women of the places they traverse. The tension between the two escalates, takes a terrifying turn, then is blown off the page by a searing final paragraph. Eggers' stripped-down prose and eye for irony carry his message with characteristic flair. (Knopf, $25.95) — MARION WINIK

‘The New Me’ by Halle Butler

This sometimes funny, sometimes tragic psychodrama follows a
Photo Credit: Penguin Books

This sometimes funny, sometimes tragic psychodrama follows a few weeks in the life of a smart but brutally lonely and socially inept office temp in Chicago. Losing fast in the struggle against body odor, alcohol abuse, and domestic squalor, Millie fights back with bursts of housecleaning and online shopping plus self-care strategies she read in a teen magazine 15 years ago. Her obsessive analyses of the behavior of other women — there are almost no men in the book — are snapped into context by chapters showing what these characters are actually thinking. Halle Butler's curmudgeonly, black-humored depiction of what now passes for work, for friendship, for a life will appeal to fans of Ottessa Moshfegh. (Penguin, $16 paper) — MARION WINIK

‘Where Reasons End’ by Yiyun Li

"If you write about suffering, if you understand
Photo Credit: Random House

"If you write about suffering, if you understand suffering, why did you give me a life?" asks the narrator's 16-year-old son in this haunting epistolary novella. Shortly after Yiyun Li published a memoir about her depression in 2017, her son committed suicide; the present book was written in the months following his death. As its title suggests, "Where Reasons End" does not focus on why, nor does it go over specifics. Instead, it is a heartbreaking attempt to keep the dead boy's voice alive, to keep the banter between mother and gifted son — a baker, a knitter, an insightful critic of his mother's work — going just a little while longer. (Random House, $25) — MARION WINIK

‘The Cook’ by Maylis de Kerangal

A biographical sketch of a fictional Frenchman named
Photo Credit: FSG

A biographical sketch of a fictional Frenchman named Mauro who bakes charlottes and babas by age 10, whips up pasta carbonara and chocolate mousse for the guys at 15, and then comes of age in a brilliant kaleidoscope of restaurants. There's the traditional brasserie where he does his apprenticeship, the Michelin-starred establishment where he gets smacked in the face with a melon-baller, later his own one-man show with his father as maitre d', also a private restaurant in the Marais that serves one 10-course meal per night to 10 people. Mauro works harder and harder in situations ever more stressful and grueling, but somehow, as with cooking shows on television, our experience of his labor is almost narcotically sensual and soothing. Translated by Sam Taylor. (FSG, $20) — MARION WINIK    

'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) — TOM BEER

'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) — TOM BEER

'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) — MARION WINIK

'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) — TOM BEER

'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) — MARION WINIK

'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)— MARION WINIK

'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) — MARION WINIK

'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) — MARION WINIK

'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) — TOM BEER

'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) — TOM BEER

'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) — MARION WINIK

'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) — MARION WINIK

'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) — MARION WINIK

'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) — TOM BEER

'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) — TOM BEER

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