Novellas are the violas of the book world: everyone sort of knows what they are but, compared to their bigger and smaller siblings — in this case, novels and short stories — they keep such a low profile that few of us can say we’ve actually read one. Kesey, an American who lives in China but maintains links with the McSweeney’s crowd, began this tale of a Yugoslav soldier thinking it would be a short story. Then it got longer and he thought it might be a novel. But it wasn’t, and he let the story decide how long it wanted to be and when it wanted to end. That’s a brave choice, a matter of trust, and the tale repaid Kesey’s faith by being as silky, sunbaked and lustrous as the sandy beaches its protagonist once strode, dotted with shards of shock and brutality. It’s as streamlined as a beach, too, and reading these 116 pages of prose — not a word out of place and no filler, no fat — makes you realize how padded with fluff most full-length books really are.