Saturday, December 18, 2010

Linked Stories , Part 2

Some more thoughts on linked stories. Publishers like them, I think, because they can pose as novels, but are not as hard to get right as novels are. It's really difficult to take the same set of characters through 300+ pages of a single story. In a set of linked stories, the writer essentially has 10 or a dozen fresh starts -- all new characters, new ideas -- and can shake off whatever started to get tricky and bogged down in the last section. But for the very same reason, readers usually don't like them as much as novels. Instead of working through the tricky stuff in a surprising, satisfying way, the writer of linked stories gets to throw it all behind her and start on something new. And linked stories aren't even usually as good as regular stand-alone short stories, because they depend a little on the weight of what's around them. A lot of time, a linked story is really just a vignette.

Not that I think all collections of linked stories are awful, but I do resent publishers disguising them as novels -- they aren't. Fans of the genre should read Laura Hendrie's Stygo, an old favorite of mine.


Anonymous said...


jrlennon said...


Anyway, lemme add Patrick Somerville's new collection to the list of books that actually works as a linked-story book, without seeming to sacrifice anything. It's really weird and good, I'll do a full post about it soon.

Sung said...

You guys just got a firsty! They're quite popular on blog comments around the web...not sure where the concept originated from, possibly from Slashdot, though now they're most popular on The Onion's AV Club blogs.

Anyway -- please excuse me as I'm about to talk about my own book. With it, I tried to toe the line between novel-in-stories (which is how the front cover blurb describes it) and a novel, and I'd like to think I ended up with some sort of a bastardized hybrid. The odd chapters are written in the first person from the point of view of the main character (David Kim), while the even chapters are in the third person and feature a different character, first from the family but then branching out to others. Meanwhile, in these even chapters, something is always happening to the Kims, so the "A" story is constantly moving forward.

Was this easier to write than a straightforward novel? Who knows. That's what I'm writing now, and it's a pain in the ass, much like the first one was, I'm sorry to say.

I do totally hear you regarding straight-on novel-in-stories, though. Even glancing connections, where a character from a previous chapter just happens to literally bump into another, has that novelistic feel, and it can be a sort of a cheat.

At least Olive Kitteridge wisely deflects this is-it-a-novel question by simply calling it "Fiction" on its cover. Good move, Random House.

My favorite set of linked stories is without a doubt Winesburg, Ohio, but Don Lee's Yellow comes a very close second.

- Sung

p.s. By the way, I'm totally impressed that you guys are posting every day. The best way to support your venture, I figure, is to post a comment to every post. And I promise it won't be a firsty.

Sung said...

Wait! I just remembered another novel-in-stories that I absolutely, totally adored...Justin Cronin's Mary and O'Neil. Such beautiful writing, and just so damn sad.

- Sung

jrlennon said...

I have a lot of friends who love that Cronin book--I really need to get to it!

Z Cole said...

I often enjoy linked story collections more than standalone story collections. Especially in cases where the standalone collection features, say, a disenfranchised nerdy white twentysomething with girl hang ups in nearly every story.

Not that I have an issue with that type of character, but essentially restarting the book with a similar-but-slightly different character every twenty pages wares me out after a while.

That said, Somerville's first book kinda did that, and I enjoyed Trouble just fine.

Z Cole said...

Oh, forgot a point. As much as I like them, I do feel like some linked collections do like lazy, wandering novels. But overall the genre is one I love. Perhaps this is partially because, as a younger writer, I can imagine myself writing a collection more than a novel.

Additionally, linked stories appeal to two of my biases-- I love quick reads, and I love fiction that's interconnected through geography, characters and events. I love seeing the reverberration.

lisa dot richards said...

Olive Kitteridge is one of my all time faves. You probably know that Elizabeth Strout is in Syracuse TONIGHT.