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It’s Day Four of National Novel Writing Month, and I’m already a couple of thousand words behind where I should be. So this seems like a pretty good time to consider a few small, perfect jewels of short novels.

I know lots of people will object to the idea that any book is “perfect.” In this discussion, I’m using “perfect” to mean a very specific thing:a piece of writing where every detail, even every word, is exactly what the writer intended and contributes to the whole. Nothing missing, nothing unneeded. Poems pretty much have to be perfect, in this definition–a poem that doesn’t meet this standard is simply unfinished (maybe we should kindly say, not yet finished).  Many short stories are perfect, by this standard. Hey, I’ve written some myself. Remember, the standard I’ve defined is just that I as the writer feel that everything in the story is exactly as I intended it to be.  But a whole novel? Pretty rare.

Of course, since I’m not the author of any of these, I can only say that they seem perfect to me. Not a word out of place, not a wasted image. Small jewels.

So here’s my short list, including one generally considered a short story.

The Member of the Wedding

All of Carson McCuller’ s books were beautiful, and she died too young. This book is vividly alive.

An Episode of Sparrows

I know Rumer Godden actually disliked this book, but I still consider it perfect in its interweaving stories of people trying to bring beauty out of ugliness in the rubble of postwar London.

The Bluest Eye

Toni Morrison’s first novel, the one she wrote on the train commuting to her day job. Amazing.

Brokeback Mountain

This one by Annie Proulx is considered a short story, but I contend it’s really the world’s shortest (maybe) novel, in its sweep of time and depth of feeling and characterization.