The best connected, interleaved, or overlayered story fiction (also known as a palimpsest)

Why am I passionate about this?

I once visited an art exhibition in which an artist had taken old canvasses and re-used them, over-layering one work with another in such a way as to illuminate both. This technique was described as a palimpsest. At the time I was writing a novel that seemed to be four connected stories, struggling with the format, wondering if it would work. The exhibition encouraged me to persevere and Crossings: Four Tiered Stories is the result. Since writing my palimpsest I have come across others in the genre, written by some of the most revered authors of our time. It has been a pleasure to share them with you.


I wrote...

Crossings: Four Tiered Stories

By Allie Cresswell,

Book cover of Crossings: Four Tiered Stories

What is my book about?

This quartet of over-layered stories introduces four strangers. Only their dull English town and the heatwave that broils its lack-lustre streets and wilting parks connect them. Their separate stories are drawn violently together when a boy pulls them into the maelstrom of his fate.

Each is at a crossroads. Matt must leap the gulf between adolescence and adulthood. Megan needs to find her way out of troubled waters. A family crisis leads Jade to a tenuous path of faith. Mrs. Fairlie knows the bridge she faces but refuses to cross without knowing the fate of her son. A pivotal event connects their narratives and their lives to demonstrate how fates intertwine and how the consequences of our choices can affect people we don’t even know.

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The books I picked & why

Book cover of The Beggar Maid: Stories of Flo and Rose

Allie Cresswell Why did I love this book?

The book is like a series of snapshots, taken over forty years, as times and the protagonists change (or don’t change). Their relationship readjusts itself but their bond – though sometimes tenuous – never becomes detached. Each story is complete in itself but they build into a collage that reads better as a whole than it did in its parts.

Flo is a practical, unimaginative woman, left to bring up Rose, her stepdaughter. Rose is an awkward child, unpromising at first, but through the course of the stories manages to escape and build her own life.

Munro’s language is sublime, like a banquet of delicious things you have to sip and savour; she sees beauty and profound truth in everyday things.

This was the first connected-story novel I read, and I loved the idea that a story can be told from many different points of view: of people, of time, of perspective.

By Alice Munro,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked The Beggar Maid as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

WINNER OF THE NOBEL PRIZE® IN LITERATURE 2013

In this series of interweaving stories, Munro recreates the evolving bond between two women in the course of almost forty years. One is Flo, practical, suspicious of other people's airs, at times dismayingly vulgar. the other is Rose, Flo's stepdaughter, a clumsy, shy girl who somehow leaves the small town she grew up in to achieve her own equivocal success in the larger world.


Book cover of Olive Kitteridge

Allie Cresswell Why did I love this book?

This is a collection of connected stories that meanders through the life and times of a community in small-town America. The writer takes her scalpel and peels back the layers of ordinary lives to find the drama and tragedy, the sacrifice and courage within. This book is an enormous canvas of life made up of tiny fragments.

The different stories span out like spokes in a wheel, and at its hub is Olive, teacher of mathematics, wife to the local pharmacist, lover of donuts. She is feared by her students and given a wide birth by people in the town because she is uncompromising. Beneath her prickly veneer she is clever at reading people, sympathetic and kind. Olive has no self-knowledge. People's reaction to her instinctive and firmly-held opinions confuses her. I loved this vulnerability.

Olive slides in and out of the other characters' stories, but she is such a complex, substantial catalyst that she impacts every scene.

By Elizabeth Strout,

Why should I read it?

13 authors picked Olive Kitteridge as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

WINNER OF THE PULITZER PRIZE • The beloved first novel featuring Olive Kitteridge, from the #1 New York Times bestselling author of the Oprah’s Book Club pick Olive, Again
 
“Fiction lovers, remember this name: Olive Kitteridge. . . . You’ll never forget her.”—USA Today
 
NAMED ONE OF THE BEST BOOK OF THE YEAR BY The Washington Post Book World • USA Today • San Francisco Chronicle • Chicago Tribune • Seattle Post-Intelligencer • People • Entertainment Weekly • The Christian Science Monitor • The Plain Dealer • The Atlantic • Rocky Mountain News • Library Journal
 
At times stern, at…


Book cover of Notwithstanding

Allie Cresswell Why did I love this book?

This book is a collection of the author’s memoirs, set in a fictional village in England’s leafy countryside. Each story stands alone and yet they build a picture of a time and place that is now lost.

There is humour and tragedy in these stories. A disastrous dinner party ends up with the guests having to go to the hospital to have their stomachs pumped. An elderly lady who cares more for her animals than she does for herself is discovered to be starving. The mysterious ‘hedging and ditching man’ evades identification although there is a suggestion that this disreputable-looking old tramp is in fact the local squire. A happenstance meeting at the scene of an accident results in a fledgling music group being started up in the village.

All these anecdotes are narrated from the confused, curious, only partly-understanding point of view of a young boy. There is nostalgia here, that I particularly like.

By Louis De Bernieres,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Notwithstanding as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Welcome to the village of Notwithstanding, where a lady dresses in plus fours and shoots squirrels, a retired general gives up wearing clothes altogether, a spiritualist lives in a cottage with the ghost of her husband, and people think it quite natural to confide in a spider that lives in a potting shed. Based on de Bernieres' recollections of the village he grew up in, Notwithstanding is a funny and moving depiction of a charming vanished England.


Book cover of Nocturnes: Five Stories of Music and Nightfall

Allie Cresswell Why did I love this book?

This is an interesting medley of stories by a writer I really admire. Some of them are connected by characters in common, and all set around music in some form. As usual with this writer, the prose is delicious. His depiction of twilight is particularly evocative.

My favourite story centred on an American movie actor and his wife. Their star is descending and their careers need a boost if they are to maintain their standing in the limelight. The actor hires a guitar player to serenade his wife beneath their window in Venice. That the two are deeply in love is very clear, but the gossip-hungry public and their need for publicity means that they will have to part. A heartbreaking tale.

Each of the stories is told from a different point of view, throwing a new and disparate light on each one, creating a complex and multi-layered dish.

By Kazuo Ishiguro,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked Nocturnes as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

*Kazuo Ishiguro's new novel Klara and the Sun is now available*

In Nocturnes, Kazuo Ishiguro explores ideas of love, music and the passing of time. From the piazzas of Italy to the 'hush-hush floor' of an exclusive Hollywood Hotel, the characters we encounter range from young dreamers to cafe musicians to faded stars, all of them at some moment of reckoning.

Gentle, intimate and witty, this quintet is marked by a haunting theme - the struggle to keep alive a sense of life's romance, even as one gets older, relationships founder and youthful hopes recede.

'Each of these stories is…


Book cover of Cloud Atlas

Allie Cresswell Why did I love this book?

This is an epic read, a huge tome of a book that tackles the past, the future, the environment, and human nature by segueing six stories together, over-layering them, making clever connections between them, in a way that leaves me breathless every time I read it.

The title alone is intriguing. Normally, the atlas is a static depiction of the world and the viewer moves through it either by turning the pages or by travel. But in Cloud Atlas the clouds move and the viewer remains the fixed point. In this way, history passes before our eyes and metamorphoses into the present and the future. We learn the truism of Jean-Baptiste Alphonse Karr’s maxim; “plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose” – the more things change, the more they stay the same…

By David Mitchell,

Why should I read it?

12 authors picked Cloud Atlas as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Six lives. One amazing adventure. The audio publication of one of the most highly acclaimed novels of 2004. 'Souls cross ages like clouds cross skies...' A reluctant voyager crossing the Pacific in 1850; a disinherited composer blagging a precarious livelihood in between-the-wars Belgium; a high-minded journalist in Governor Reagan's California; a vanity publisher fleeing his gangland creditors; a genetically modified 'dinery server' on death-row; and Zachry, a young Pacific Islander witnessing the nightfall of science and civilisation - the narrators of CLOUD ATLAS hear each other's echoes down the corridor of history, and their destinies are changed in ways great…


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The Pianist's Only Daughter: A Memoir

By Kathryn Betts Adams,

Book cover of The Pianist's Only Daughter: A Memoir

Kathryn Betts Adams Author Of The Pianist's Only Daughter: A Memoir

New book alert!

Why am I passionate about this?

I was first a clinical social worker and then a social work professor with research focus on older adults. Over the past few years, as I have been writing my own memoir about caring for my parents, I’ve been drawn to memoirs and first-person stories of aging, illness, and death. The best memoirs on these topics describe the emotional transformation in the writer as they process their loss of control, loss of their own or a loved one’s health, and their fear, pain, and suffering. In sharing these stories, we help others empathize with what we’ve gone through and help others be better prepared for similar events in their own lives.

Kathryn's book list on Memoirs illness aging death moving vivid prose

What is my book about?

The Pianist's Only Daughter is a frank, humorous, and heartbreaking exploration of aging in an aging expert's own family.

Social worker and gerontologist Kathryn Betts Adams spent decades negotiating evolving family dynamics with her colorful and talented parents: her mother, an English scholar and poet, and her father, a pianist and music professor. Their vivid emotional lives, marital instability, and eventual divorce provided the backdrop for her 1960s and ‘70s Midwestern youth.

Nearly thirty years after they divorce, Adams' newly single father flies in to woo his ex-wife, now retired and diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease. Their daughter watches in disbelief…

The Pianist's Only Daughter: A Memoir

By Kathryn Betts Adams,

What is this book about?

Grounded in insights about mental health, health and aging, The Pianist’s Only Daughter: A Memoir presents a frank and loving exploration of aging in an aging expert's own family.

Social worker and gerontologist Kathryn Betts Adams spent decades negotiating evolving family dynamics with her colorful and talented parents: her English scholar and poet mother and her pianist father. Their vivid emotional lives, marital instability, and eventual divorce provided the backdrop for her 1960s and ‘70s Midwestern youth.

Nearly thirty years after they divorce, Adams' father finds himself single and flies in to woo his ex-wife, now retired and diagnosed with…


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