The book I am working on does not follow the typical structure normally associated with a novel. No three act/two pillar structure…I think. I am not a professional writer, so I have the luxury of not knowing what it is I am not supposed to do. I spent some time thinking about a few novels which threw caution to the wind and were served to the reader in unusual structural styles. Here are five which stood out to me.
5. On the Road, by Jack Kerouac
This one comes in at number five, because its inclusion on the list really depends on which On the Road you read. The 1956 heavily-edited version first released to the public followed the typical form and structure of novels. Kerouac’s original 1951 scroll was anything but typical. The work is presented as a single paragraph of chaotic energy, fueled by Benzedrine, and written in three weeks.
4. House of Leaves, by Mark Z. Danielewski
So, here goes…a man discovers the inside of his house is larger than the outside. He makes a documentary about said house. An in depth study of the documentary is written by an old blind man. A tattoo artist finds the book, but can find no evidence the film exists, but adds his own notes to the old man’s. To add to the mess, the tattoo artist’s mother writes him a series of letters from a mental hospital. it was a pretty big deal upon release, in 2000. Readers found it either genius or gimmicky. Me, I found it…meh. It seemed like there was a great story buried amongst the nonsense.
3. S. by J.J. Abrams and Doug Dorst
A novel, Ship of Theseus, by V.M. Stratka was borrowed from a library, but never returned. In the margins are notes written by two students trying to solve the mystery of the author’s identity and disappearance. Like House of Leaves, this book is gimmicky, but it works for me. I find it a superior book to Danielewski’s.
2. Finnegan’s Wake, by James Joyce
Wait, what? Did I just forget how to read. What language is this? Don’t get me wrong, I like Joyce (in small doses). Dubliners is great; I love ‘The Dead’. I slogged through Ulysses, and I did finish it. Finnegan’s Wake, on the other hand is another beast altogether. It must have taken some courage to publish it. I admire Joyce for his effort, but I just don’t want to read it…
1. Naked Lunch, by William S. Burroughs
Welcome to the drug-addled genius of William S. Burroughs. He wrote the novel, while experimenting with his ‘cut-up’ technique. This concept doesn’t always work for me (almost never), but it does in Naked Lunch. There are three ways to read the book as I see it. One can take it as a whole and read it from beginning to end. One can take it as a series of short stories, which would negate its place on this list. One can take it as Burroughs intended. He intended the reader to view the book as a single story, but the chapters could be read in any order the reader desires. This is a genius idea, but is nigh on impossible to pull off in a typically plotted narrative.
I’d be interested to learn of any other books which toy with form and structure. Any suggestions?