'The Grape of Wrath' and other abridged novels

Okay, I actually like Moby-Dick in all it’s unwieldy glory, including all the nautical and cetological stuff. So I’d hate to be the editor at Orion Books who’s charged with chopping Melville’s whale of a tale into fishsticks. I couldn’t be ruthless enough to trim that or any of the other literary heavyweights (including Anna Karenina and David Copperfield) into the 40-percent-slimmer editions that Orion is releasing this month. But I did enjoy the New York Times article the other day that solicited the opinions of several well-known authors as to which books could stand to be shorter.

Norman Mailer was unsentimental enough to list three of his own tree-flattening tomes on his should-be-shorter list. EW essayist Stephen King went so far as to write his own hilariously abridged versions of Gone With the Wind, pared down to just four sentences, and Tess of the D’Urbervilles, which he distilled down to a single tabloid headline. My favorite response, however, came from Jonathan Franzen, who noted that downsized books should have similarly diminished titles, like The Pretty Good Gatsby and Shortmarch. (I guess Franzen’s own magnum opus would become The Correction.)

This article could inspire several questions/party games for us, PopWatchers. Such as: which novels do you think could be slashed? On the other hand, which do you wish were longer? (I vote to fatten up Pynchon’s The Crying of Lot 49.) And finally, what Franzenesque titles would you give these fragmented fictions? I thought of several: Bleak Condominium, A Tale of One City, House of the Six Gables, Naked Snack, Ninety-Seven Years of Solitude, and of course, Finite Jest. Your turn…


Comments (33 total) Add your comment
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  • Jael

    The Fingernail of Darkness

  • Jael

    Oh, let’s not forget long poems too. T. S. Eliot’s The Waste Land could become The Dump. Confusing as it it, that’s not a piece I’d want to cut up.

  • Jael

    Now you’ve got me started:
    The Noise and the Agitated
    The Serf of Ocean Park
    The Known Village
    The Seconds
    As far as trimming books, I thought Orwell did the best job with his own work. Animal Farm communicated his point better than 1984.

  • Lene

    I can’t. Just can’t. Abridging is an abomination.

  • BrandonK

    If there’s a series that could stand to be shorter, I’d nominate Robert Jordan’s Wheel of Time. 12 big books is quite an undertaking, and although I love the series, a couple of the books have been sub-par.
    Reduced titles:
    The Butcher of Monte Cristo
    The Custodian of the Rings
    Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Kidney Stone
    A Thousand Little Pieces
    Slaughterhouse 37
    The Red Badge of Willingness
    The Taming of the Mouse
    I guess I should stop now.

  • Becca

    I love George Eliot, but I could do without most of the first half of The Mill on the Floss.

  • t3hdow

    I disagree Jael. Although Animal Farm is a decent novel, Orwell’s 1984 blows that one WAY out the water.

  • Mozz

    I think some snipping would make BLEAKHOUSE just a little less Bleak.

  • Rachel

    Walden Puddle

  • K

    How about War and Mission Accomplished?

  • Ceballos

    If Dickens came out with “Reasonable Expectations”, I might read it.

  • G

    Anything by Charles Dickens. the man was paid by the word, which is why most of his novels are over-sized and over-rated.

  • Jack Fear

    Jael: it’s funny you should mention Eliot’s “The Waste Land.” In its original version–before Eliot amended it under advice from Ezra Pound–it was about twice as long and, by all accounts, half as good. So sometimes it’s a good idea to bring out the scissors.

  • Jerry Lindberg

    I like Steinbeckenheimer’s version of the “Rapes of Grath.” Grath being a poor town located several miles from the Yugoslavian border where the rapes had occurred. I think this novel should be fattened a bit. That’s just my opinion.

  • kcholt68

    I agree with Lene, this is just wrong.

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