What do Jennifer Egan, Jeffrey Eugenides, and Colum McCann have in common? Besides the fact that they’re all kick-ass novelists, literary novelists, important novelists, award-winning novelists? They’ve all written books recently that are what used to be called linked short stories. They are novels in story form. The stories vary in voice and point of view, but they all examine a sweep of time and place and character. Jennifer Egan’s A Visit from the Goon Squad, a Pulitzer winner, is about a group of people loosely connected by music, friendships, and family ties. Jeffrey Eugenides book, The Marriage Plot, follows a group of college students as they graduate and scatter. And Colum McCann’s book, Let the Great World Spin, peeks at New Yorkers who saw the man who danced on a highwire between the World Trade Center Towers in 1974.
It’s interesting that all these contemporary writers are reinventing the novel in a similar way. We seem to need to look at the same events from different angles, from the points of view of women and men and the old and the young. And we delight in finding the connections between the characters.
I like this trend. It seems to capture both the fragmented nature and the exploding connections that characterize our days.