Alejandro Zambra’s fiction often plays with structure, whether it’s heading into metafictional territory or otherwise pushing at the boundaries between author and character. His novel Multiple Choice is exactly what the title suggests: a book structured as a kind of examination, with multiple-choice and fill-in-the-blank questions, as well as a section dedicated to reading comprehension. The story that emerges is a haunting one set against the backdrop of the last few decades of Chilean history.
Nearly every book by the Argentinean writer Julio Cortázar has the power to disorient the reader in some way. With Hopscotch, that disorientation is literal: the structure of the novel allows readers to choose multiple narrative paths. Depending on how you read it, you might come away with a completely different understanding of the novel’s plot or of one of its characters. It’s the kind of novel that reminds us of the potential of the form, even as it tells a compelling story—or multiple compelling stories.
Mark Z. Danielewski
Mark Z. Danielewski’s fiction often plays with narrative, text layout, and the physicality of the book in question: his cult classic House of Leaves serves as one significant example of this. It’s a novel with two narrators, and it’s designed to be rotated to read the works of each one in turn. One review
referred to it as “a Möbius strip,” and invoked Vladimir Nabokov’s Pale Fire—another work that takes bold stylistic and structural risks.
Novels in Three Lines
The title of this collection, translated into English by Luc Sante, tells you exactly what you’re going to get: incredibly condensed narratives that nonetheless convey nuanced characters, unexpected plots, and reversals of fortune. And these works predate the notion of flash fiction by a century: Fénéon was born in 1861.
It’s hard to underestimate the importance of structure in telling a story. This can apply to nearly all forms of writing, whether it’s a novel, a short story, an essay, a memoir, or a poem. Structure is the framework on which the story plays out; for an experienced reader, structure can also provide foreshadowing as to where a narrative is heading. But rewarding work can also emerge when writers demolish the structure of their book, reassemble it into an altered form, or create something entirely new. In the hands of the right writer, a book structured as a series of questions might turn out to be as emotionally rich as something with a more traditional plot. That’s the freedom that fiction offers, as well a sign of the continued potential that it contains.
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