The best short, swift novels to shock, expand, and engulf you

Who am I?

Writer and essayist Agnes Borinsky called my debut novel The Seep, A swift shock of a novel that has shifted how I see our world.Here are five short, urgent novels that continue to live with me in the months and years after reading them. These are some of my most beloved books, all of which happen to be under 200 pages, which ache with the inner mystery of what is hidden, and what is revealed. These books are my teachers, each a precise masterclass in world building, suspense, and purposeful storytelling. Enjoy these ‘swift shocks!’

I wrote...

The Seep

By Chana Porter,

Book cover of The Seep

What is my book about?

A blend of searing social commentary and speculative fiction, Chana Porters fresh, pointed debut explores a strange new world in the wake of a benign alien invasion. A strange new elegy of love and loss, The Seep explores grief, alienation, and the ache of moving on. A 2021 Lambda Literary Award Finalist, Finalist for the Otherwise Award, Times of London Best Sci-Fi of 2021.

A unique alien invasion story that focuses on the human and the myriad ways we see and dont see our own world. Mesmerizing.” —Jeff VanderMeer

The books I picked & why

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By Antonio Di Benedetto,

Book cover of Zama

Why this book?

Argentinian masterpiece written in 1956 and only recently published in English in 2016, Zama is told from the POV of a minor Spanish official colonizing Paraguay. The alienation of Don Diego de Zama reads like a horror storytaut and psychological, hes both villain and victim of the systems he perpetuates. Zama was adapted brilliantly into a film by Lucrecia Martel in 2017, which is how I learned about the book. I expected the film to have radically adapted its source material, but what I discovered instead was a novel from the 1950s that felt incredibly fresh and modern. 


By Rita Indiana, Achy Obejas (translator),

Book cover of Tentacle

Why this book?

Electric, dystopic, magical, queer, Tentacle is the most exciting, genre-bending book Ive gotten my little hands on in quite some time. Expansive in theme yet swiftly paced, it moves between three different connected time spans including futuristic Santo Domingo. Felt like a fever dream with seriously high stakes, I cant believe how much world building happens in under 200 pages. Rita Indiana is also a brilliant musician based in the Dominican Republic, I was introduced to her revelatory music after reading her fiction. Her music now haunts all my playlists. 

Event Factory

By Renee Gladman,

Book cover of Event Factory

Why this book?

The first in a series of surreal, poetic short novels, set in the fictional city of Ravicka, a linguist-travelerarrives during an unspecified state of emergency. Event Factory feels like a travelog of an unsettling yet beautiful dream. I return to this book often and always get something differentthe events evaporate, but the details remain. You can easily enjoy Event Factory as a standalone novel. Gladman is a master. Fun fact: Dorothy, the small feminist press which publishes these books, began specifically to launch these singular novels. 

By Night in Chile

By Roberto Bolaño, Chris Andrews (translator),

Book cover of By Night in Chile

Why this book?

Im also a playwright, so I really admire a full story told in propulsive first-person monologue. This novella is a confession of Father Urrutia from his deathbed, beginning with the line I am dying now, but I still have many things to say.As he speaks, the priest untangles the twisted, uncomfortable agreements between artists and institutions in Chile under Pinochet. I often recommend this book for people who have not yet read Bolaño and might feel intimated by the length of his major works. 

How to Order the Universe

By María José Ferrada, Elizabeth Bryer (translator),

Book cover of How to Order the Universe

Why this book?

In this beguiling short novel just out from Tin House, Ferrara also examines the Pinochet regime, but through the eyes of a child. 7-year-old M sells tools to hardware stores with her salesman father, slowly realizing his downtrodden place in their society, along with dark secrets about the world around her. The dance of revelations through the young narrators perspective is poetic and effective. I read this in an afternoon, oscillating between feeling breathless and meditative. A high wire act, to say the least. 

5 book lists we think you will like!

Interested in Chile, ontology, and Augusto Pinochet?

5,215 authors have recommended their favorite books and what they love about them. Browse their picks for the best books about Chile, ontology, and Augusto Pinochet.

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And, 3 books we think you will enjoy!

We think you will like My Tender Matador, The Pinochet File: A Declassified Dossier on Atrocity and Accountability, and Reagan and Pinochet: The Struggle Over U.S. Policy Toward Chile if you like this list.