The recently concluded San Miguel Writers Conference and Literary Festival made one thing pretty clear: Playing with time and structure, in the hands of inventive authors, makes for storytelling that is both challenging and riveting.
The chronological timeline seems so passe, when you add up the considerable success of the featured keynote authors.
- Delia Owens wrote “Where the Crawdads Sing” in straight chronological order. Then, in a brilliant move, she chopped the novel in half and wove the two disparate timelines into alternating narratives.
- Colum McCann’s soon-to-be-released 400-page novel “Apeirogon” is broken up into 1,001 numbered cantos, a nod to the “1,001 Arabian Nights.”
- Ian Williams structures his debut novel, “Reproduction,” along mathematical/genetic lines. It is written in four sections mirroring the cycle of life and death over several generations. Williams begins with two people and then formats the book as if the characters are “reproducing themselves” toward the inevitable end.
- Madeleine Thien’s next book, on the philosopher Spinoza is a ways off but in her keynote address she took her audience down a beguiling and meditative path through time, space, and imagination — in and out of rooms, real and imagined, and all inhabited by some aspect of Spinoza. There was nothing linear or chronological about it
- Tommy Orange begins his debut novel, “There There,” with a powerful essay on the very real acts of violence and genocide experienced by Native Americans.