Five Novels Resolved in 24 Hours or Less

About 2,000 years before federal agent Jack Bauer began saving the free world on "24," Aristotle described the classic drama as taking place during a single revolution of the sun. Novels generally don't abide by that "unity of time," of course, but some of the most striking and curious ones do. James Joyce's "Ulysses" famously -- and voluminously -- describes Leopold Bloom's experiences on June 14, 1904. Virginia Woolf's "Mrs. Dalloway" takes us through a very different day about 20 years later. Reading about such a compressed period of time and the memories that inform it sometimes gives me a sharper awareness of my own hectic life.

Here's a list of more recent novels that take place in 24 hours or less. If you've got a moment -- or even an hour -- let me know your own favorites.

1. Remembering the Bones, By Frances Itani (2007).
On her way to the airport to attend a special celebration of Queen Elizabeth II's 80th birthday (and her own), an Ontario housewife runs off the road into a ravine. As she waits for help to arrive, she considers the extraordinary course of her ordinary life over the 20th century.

2. Tomorrow, By Graham Swift (2007).
In this clammy, overwrought story by a Booker Prize-winner, a mother lies in bed one night rehearsing the shocking news she and her husband will deliver to their children in the morning.

3. On Chesil Beach, By Ian McEwan (2007). Another Booker Prize-winner gives us an anxious night of revelation, but this time it's a cringingly awkward honeymoon in 1962.

4. The Almost Moon, By Alice Sebold (2007).
When caring for her decrepit mother pushes Helen too far, she smothers the old woman with a towel and then wonders what to do with the body.

5. Death of a River Guide, By Richard Flanagan (2001).
This Australian is my favorite author you've never heard of. His spectacular first novel -- a sprawling, hypnotic history of Tasmania -- takes place during the few minutes it takes a man to drown in a river. For more than one reason, it'll make you hold your breath.

-- Ron Charles

By Christian Pelusi |  April 3, 2008; 6:27 AM ET Fiction , Ron Charles
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I realize this is anal, but Bloomsday is June 16, not 14.

Posted by: Nitpicking | April 3, 2008 7:50 AM

Thanks -- you're right, of course. Sorry about that.

Posted by: Ron Charles | April 3, 2008 10:52 AM

I've never read Proust, so I may be wrong, but doesn't at least the first volume of Remembrance of Things Past take place within 24 hours? Aren't the events memories that are prompted by a bite of madeleine?

Posted by: KLeewrite | April 3, 2008 11:08 AM

"The Mezzanine" by Nicholson Baker

Takes place over the lunch break and afternoon of an office worker, analyzing everything in minute detail, with lots of side tracking flights of fancy.

Posted by: CJB | April 3, 2008 1:00 PM

"Vox," also by Nicholson Baker (am I sensing a theme?). It's just one long, erotic (or dirty, depending on your point of view) phone conversation.

Posted by: KLeewrite | April 3, 2008 2:11 PM

More Nicholson Baker: His "Checkpoint" is a single conversation about why the president should be assassinated.

Posted by: Ron Charles | April 3, 2008 3:13 PM

This is just the worst format for a blog. Five of this, Five of that... Management and staff just don't seem to understand the delivery of blog content.

Truly a "short stack." See: Paper Cuts.

Posted by: Jim Hemmings | April 9, 2008 10:20 AM

There's no reason to think that the blog format requires or demands a certain kind of content. (The Web is large; it contains multitudes.) Me, I love lists. Readers love lists. If we want to post a short stack of books each week on some quirky subject to spark a little conversation, I don't see the harm. Seems a bit early for the Internet Police to come 'round and tell us, "You're Not Doing It Right."

Posted by: Ron Charles | April 9, 2008 2:58 PM

One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovitch by Alexander Solzhenitsyn (sp.

Posted by: Balti | April 10, 2008 3:29 PM

Mr. Phillips by John Lanchester

Steeped in minutiae (the good, interesting kind), its one day in the life of a British accountant on a Bloomesque journey of his own.

Posted by: Arshia | April 26, 2008 12:03 PM

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