Tuesday, September 29, 2020

Parallel Narratives in Fiction

Parallel narratives unfold seemingly unrelated stories from two or more time frames. The subtlety at which they are tied together reveals the mastery of the writer. Try one of these, available to you from your friendly Southlake Library.

Sandcastle GirlsThe Sandcastle Girls: A Novel by Chris Bohjalian
As in Jodi Picoult’s The Storyteller, war and genocide form the backdrop of this thought-provoking novel from an author known for examining hot-button issues in small town settings. But The Sandcastle Girls is nevertheless a bit of a departure for Chris Bohjalian, combining as it does a present-day setting with a historical love story (inspired by Bohjalian’s Armenian heritage) set in 1915 Syria, during the Armenian genocide. Focusing on Laura Petrosian as she learns more about her great-grandparents’ history, this moving, complex, and haunting novel explores the consequences of the genocide many years later, and “will leave you reeling” (Booklist).

19th WifeThe 19th Wife: A Novel by David Ebershoff
Two distinct eras in the history of polygamy share time in this compelling novel, which is narrated by two very different people. First, there’s Ann Eliza Young, the 19th wife of Mormon patriarch Brigham Young, who in 1875 left her husband (and therefore her church) and embarked on a crusade to end polygamy. Then there’s Jordan, a 20-year-old in the present day who at 14 was cast out of the fundamentalist Mormon sect in which he’d been raised. His mother, also a 19th wife, has been accused of murdering her husband, and so he’s returned to his hometown to help. If you have an interest in sexual or religious politics, or enjoy historical fiction, you’ll find The 19th Wife “great fun to read” (Booklist). You can also pick up Peggy Riley’s Amity & Sorrow for a more harrowing take on religious fundamentalism and polygamy.

JulietJuliet: A Novel by Anne Fortier
Julie Jacobs’ great-aunt has just died, leaving her a key to a safe-deposit box in Siena, Italy (and everything else to Julie’s twin). Once safely there, she finds old letters and a copy of Romeo and Juliet in the box — and learns that she’s descended from an old Italian family whose rivalry with another may very well have inspired the Shakespearean play. As Julie gets caught up in the mystery of her ancestry, she also follows clues left by her mother — who’d died decades earlier — to find gemstones known as “Juliet’s Eyes.” Julie’s story alternates with one set in 1340, between the original Romeo and Juliet; together these parallel narratives create an intricately plotted tale that “reads like a Da Vinci Code for the smart modern woman” (Publishers Weekly).

Distant HoursThe Distant Hours: A Novel by Kate Morton
As in the recently published and equally atmospheric Sea House by Elizabeth Gifford, this character-driven tale features parallel narratives — one historical, and one contemporary. Like other Gothic novels (Daphne Du Maurier’s Rebecca, or Diane Setterfield’s The Thirteenth Tale), it also features a crumbling castle nestled in the English countryside, slowly uncovered family secrets, and compelling, mysterious characters. As a child, Meredith Baker was sent to Milderhurst to avoid the Blitz; years later, her grown daughter Edie’s curiosity is piqued by Meredith’s tears over a letter lost for 50 years. Soon, Edie becomes acquainted with the castle’s inhabitants and begins uncovering the mysterious, haunting past they share with her mother. “Enthralling,” says Publishers Weekly.