linked stories

stairway to...I’ve become enamored of (obsessed with?) linked stories/novels-in-stories/fractured narratives. This is what happens: Every time I read a novel-in-stories or a collection of linked stories (where is line, when do linked stories become a novel-in-stories? Is there a line?) I am so wowed by the form, and then I think about it constantly, wonder what other books are out there in the form, vow to read them all immediately, and then pick up a novel or a memoir and forget all about it. (What can I say? I am easily distracted.) Until the next linked story collection appears on my nightstand.

I was first made aware of the form in grad school, when I was assigned The Beggar Maid, by Alice Munro, for a lit class focused on short stories. (Quite possibly the best class I took in my MFA program, writing classes included.)  It wasn’t that I’d never read linked short stories before, but that class was the first time I was made aware of the concept, and could put a name to it. This summer I read Elizabeth Strout’s beautifully written Olive Kitteridge.  A couple of weeks ago I got lost in Japan, in Christopher Barzak’s ethereal The Love We Share Without Knowing. The fractured narrative seemed particularly appropriate to convey the confusion of being an expatriate, as well as some of the mysterious (to an outsider, anyway) conventions of Japanese culture.

Reading these two books reminded me how much I love the concept of linked stories, and I started poking around on the web for any commentary from writers on the writing process. Every collection of linked stories I’ve read has seemed, despite the skips in time or the switches in point of view, to have a certain complexity that I saw as possibly being quite difficult to create. Or was it easier to write a novel-in-stories? I just wanted to see behind the scenes.  Alas, my dreamed-of “Authors Talk About Writing Linked Stories” book proved elusive. I’m still looking for something out there on the process of producing a collection of linked stories and how it differs from sitting down and writing a novel from start to finish. (If you’re aware of any, please let me know!)

Anyway, one of way of answering these questions might be… writing some linked stories myself. Hmm.

In the mean time, I’m putting together a linked stories/novel-in-stories reading list. Suggestions welcome.

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