They Contain Multitudes

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They Contain Multitudes

Novels with varying narratives

What shapes a life? What defines it? And what agency does an individual have?

These questions echo throughout each of the following novels, all of which play with narrative to present multiple possibilities for their characters' lives.

More specifically, each novel uses narrative techniques to depict its characters as having more than one version of their lives. These techniques differ across the novels, as do the books’ overall tones, so that just as the characters' lives vary within these novels, so too do the ways that the larger questions and related themes shared by the novels resonate within each.

4 3 2 1 by Paul Auster

Archibald Ferguson is born in 1947 Newark to parents Rose and Stanley, yet out of these fixed origins spring four varying lives, unfolding here in parallel narratives. Ferguson himself is relatively consistent, and certain elements - such as the significance of his peer Amy Schneiderman and the backdrop of national events - are present in each narrative, but other aspects differ, shaping in their variance how Ferguson’s lives develop. 

The Post-Birthday World by Lionel Shriver
Irina McGovern, a children's book author in a committed relationship with partner Lawrence Trainer in 1990s London, has a moment of indecision after dinner with recently divorced friend Ramsey Acton when she unexpectedly feels the urge to kiss him. From that moment, the novel splits into two parallel narratives, with one thread following Irina's life if she gives in to temptation and the other following her life if she resists it.

Dark Matter by Blake Crouch
Quantum physicist Jason Dessen, who years ago had shifted his professional trajectory to prioritize his family life, is violently abducted and wakes as himself - but in a world where his life is what it would have been had he not given up his research. Desperate to return to the life he knew with his wife and son, Dessen works to understand the nature of this other world - and how he can escape it. 

The Versions of Us by Laura Barnett
Eva Edelstein rides her bicycle to class at Cambridge in 1958, and three parallel narratives explore what happens next. Across all three narratives, fellow student Jim Taylor plays a role, yet when he enters her life and the shape of their relationship vary, as do their connections with others and the progressions of their careers - Eva's as a writer and Jim's as an artist.

Maybe in Another Life by Taylor Jenkins Reid
Soon after moving back home to Los Angeles, directionless 29-year-old Hannah Martin goes out for drinks with best friend Gabby and at the end of the night, faces a choice of leaving with her or going home with high school boyfriend Ethan. At this point, the novel splits into two parallel narratives, exploring the consequences of both options for Hannah and those close to her.  

-- Julia S.