>The Missing Link Project

>I’ve been thinking a lot lately about linked short story collections (or story cycles, or novels in stories), partly because my recently published book, In an Uncharted Country, is a linked story collection, and I’ve written an as-yet-unpublished novel in stories, but also because it’s a topic on which I’ll be speaking at a conference next month.

As I gather my thoughts–what are these different animals?–and what are the strategies that various authors have chosen for linking their stories?–and do any of them really work as a novel?–I’ve begun collecting a list of books that fall into this “genre” and I’m trying to read as many as I can. Since I’m doing this anyway, I thought I might share my results here, in what I’m calling my “Missing Link” project. Stay tuned as I write about many examples.

The first book that I’ll profile, beginning tomorrow, is Knockemstiff by Donald Ray Pollock.

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  1. >A collection of linked short stories is, first and foremost, a collection of short stories. They just happen to have common things, usually characters. A novel in stories is, first and foremost, a novel. It just so happens that each chapter can be regarded as its own story. I have seen the former pulled off very well. However, every "novel in stories" I have attempted to read has come off, to me, as appearing very contrived. I think it is possible to do well, and, heck, who would not appreciate every chapter of the novel to be great and wonderful and beautiful and a story unto itself, but, I just have not come across such a book.

  2. >My point is that it's more complicated than that. And I would suggest that nothing "just happens" if the writer is good. Linkages are for a reason, even if, sometimes, that reason seems contrived. And many of the books that are marketed as novels in stories are more about marketing than anything else.

    But I welcome your input as I continue the exercise.

  3. >Jesus' Son comes to my mind as a "linked" collection of short stories. And a very good one! I think this approach works well with his subject matter – a drug addict. Perhaps their lives are episodic…

  4. >Mark,
    Jesus' Son is on my list to "review" in this project. I read it some time ago and remember not liking it–the preoccupation with drugs bores me–but I recall thinking it was well done. I plan to re-read next week. Thanks for the suggestion.

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