Strange Structures are the Best Structures
Authors can follow the guide above and create something interesting but they can also go off the rails and really create something new. Within these strange structures sometimes it is clear to the reader how the story is being told but occasionally a writer will emerge with a thing that defies logic. There's something all together unnerving about a book without a linear structure. Yet, these are among my favorites. It's magical to step into a story and have no idea where it's going. You give your faith to the author and enjoy the ride.
When I encountered this book in college I was absolutely blown away. I'd never read anything quite like it before. Others seem to agree as he was awarded the NBCC Award in 1987 for the book and was a finalist in the National Book Awards race. It's a story within a story within a story. It's bizarre and beautiful in a deeply introspective way. He forces you to slow down and contemplate your own reality while trying to parse out his fictional reality. Not every Philip Roth book is great but this one is superb.
This book certainly feels like Lerner read The Counterlife and thought, "I can do that." It's a book that makes you wonder what is real and what is merely a story that the narrator is writing. While he may have admired that structure he made it his own with his wonderful prose. Lerner was a poet first and it shines through in his novels. Add in funny bits of pop culture and a honest discussion of IVF and parenting making this an absolutely fascinating, wholly original novel.
A clear lineage of style from Faulkner can be seen in Ben Metcalf's debut novel but the comparisons stop there. He rambles in the same way with the same slippage of time and character; but, while Faulkner praises the countryside, Metcalf condemns it. In hilarious vignettes spent in the fictional town of Goochland County, VA (which might as well be Every Rural Town, USA) Metcalf ruminates on this idea of the country as the innocent and the city as the derelict. It's an idea that I also disagree with as a person who grew up in a small, rural town now living in a large city.
Finally, a book that exists completely outside of any other reading experience I've ever had. I'm still uncertain about which parts were true and which were total fantasy. I'm not sure you're ever supposed to know or need to know for the novel to be effective. There's a moment when Álvaro Enrigue addresses the audience that sums up the entirety of the book, "I don't know what this book is about. I know that as I wrote it I was angry because the bad guys always win. Maybe all books are written simply because in every game the bad guys have the advantage and that is beyond bearing." As I type that out my eyes brim with tears-- tears for the truth.