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Monday, June 25, 2012

The Risks of a Novel Told in Stories

I'm not the sort of reader who skips short stories in a collection. I read them straight through. I am the same with magazines, reading them cover to cover, one page at a time. In this regard, I am not what one would call a "rule breaker." I dabble in skipping about in literary magazines, but I always feel guilty afterwards.

It is for this reason that I find myself stalled on my summer reading. I don't want to start something new, but I'm not into the next story/chapter up in Jennifer Egan's A Visit from the Goon Squad, which I believe is not labeled as a novel-in-stories but very much feels like one to me. 

It's not that the story is poorly written, as Egan is a masterful craftswoman. It's not that the premise is bad, as its a neat twist in which a fake news article is used to further the plot/characterization of the novel. No, I'm just not in the mood to read an entertainment magazine article at the moment, real or fake, but I can't in good conscience skip it, nor do I want to put the book down and read something else. I want to finish Egan's book first. This is my dilemma.

This is the risk you run writing a novel-in-stories type of book. It gives the reader these changes in genre, character, verb tense, and narrative distance, and each change risks turning the reader away. This is what I'm learning about my chosen book structure as I read more and more books that use a similar setup. Does it doom a book to failure? No. Some of the best books I've read in quite a while are told through stories, but the structure does carry its risks. I'm learning that and hope that my future readers, when they hit a change that takes them aback in my novel, will have the same patience with me that I am currently providing to Ms. Egan.

Because this book is fantastic (just like all of her other works), and I'm not giving up on it just because it's making me work for the payoff.


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