Monday, August 25, 2008

Past into Present

I had a really great conversation with a customer recently--we were talking about The 19th Wife by David Ebershoff, which contains two parallel stories, one set in the past and one in the present. The 19th century storyline revolves around the true (but fictionalized ) story of Anne Eliza Young, one of Brigham Young's many wives and a crusader for the abolition of Mormon polygamy. In the present day Jordan Scott, the son of the 19th wife of a current polygamist must try to exonerate his mother, who is accused of murdering her spouse.

I really enjoyed the book but mentioned that I much preferred the historical storyline to the contemporary and we were talking about how novels that attempt to carry on two storylines often have a hard time balancing both--one tends to come out much stronger. However, I have to propose one book that strikes a perfect balance: Possession by A.S. Byatt. One of my all-time favorite novels, Possession alternates between a pair of Victorian poets and the present-day scholars who research them.

What are your favorite novels that successfully bridge the divide between parallel storylines?

4 comments:

Dan said...

The first novel to come to mind is Everything is Illuminated by Jonathan Safran Foer. The transition between the broken English part told by Alex and Jonathan's story of Trachimbrod was kind of jarring at first; I didn't know what to make of it. But after the first few chapters I fell into a groove and became deeply invested in both stories.

Lori said...

Oh, that IS a good one I had forgotten about (shame!). Thanks!

Carolyn said...

It's not a book, but Tom Stoppard's play "Arcadia" does a fantastic job of telling the stories of two time periods simultaneously. It helps that both take place in the same house...

Anonymous said...

I also thought of Everything is Illuminated as an amazing example of two storylines! Master and Margarita by Bulgakov is one of my favorite books ever and it too has two parallel storylines. I highly recomend it. -julie (c+g)