The best books that explore a single event from multiple perspectives

The Books I Picked & Why

Atonement

By Ian McEwan

Book cover of Atonement

Why this book?

I’ve read Ian McEwan’s Atonement three times, and each time has been a uniquely compelling and rewarding experience, almost solely because of its mastery of multi-perspective storytelling. This is a book that showed me how a narrative can eke out the truth of an event thanks to the intricate use of point of view.

In pre-war England, 13-year-old Briony witnesses innocent flirting between her older sister Cecilia and servant boy Robbie—and then commits an act that rocks the lives of all involved. Atonement gives you multiple “viewing angles” of the crimes and tragedies that inexorably follow Briony’s act, showing how individual points of view build to revelatory truth. This book is a profound influence on Loser Baby, which uses perspective to provide forward momentum but also moment-to-moment character enrichment.


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Every Day

By David Levithan

Book cover of Every Day

Why this book?

Here’s an interesting twist on the topic of multiple points of view. Every Day is actually a first-person narrative from one perspective—but it follows the character’s consciousness through the inhabitation of multiple bodies. Every day, see, a character named simply “A” wakes up inside a new human being, displacing the other consciousness and experiencing the person’s life fully for 24 hours. It’s a love story with an emphasis on our current conversation about gender fluidity, but personally, the narrative taught me excellent lessons about putting myself in other people’s shoes and seeing what their experiences and their idiosyncrasies bring to a story as a whole.

Every Day is a book whose primary motive is the experience of empathy—something we need a lot more of in 21st century America.


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Little Fires Everywhere

By Celeste Ng

Book cover of Little Fires Everywhere

Why this book?

Sometimes a book comes along that challenges my preconceptions. To me, Little Fires Everywhere seemed like another suburban melodrama populated by rich entitled white folks—and, yes, that accurately describes a certain percentage of it. But into this privileged Cleveland neighborhood enters Mia Warren and her daughter Pearl, and everything changes. Prepare for a cavalcade of lies and dysfunction and hypocrisy!

Little Fires Everywhere uses perspective to explore the weight of long-held secrets on our lives, but to me the book’s enduring power is the effect of perspective on our conception of today’s world. We’re living in an era when notions of race and class and privilege are being examined with more scrutiny than ever before, and this novel shows both sides of that yawning, often hateful divide.


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Gone Girl

By Gillian Flynn

Book cover of Gone Girl

Why this book?

Talk about a book that examines perspective! Gone Girl deals with a contrast between two very different first-person narrators—Nick and Amy—in the wake of Amy’s disappearance. The intriguing aspect of this novel is that both narrators are unreliable. The reader is left to determine the truth of the crime story by parsing what he/she said.

Gone Girl is a striking example of multi-perspective storytelling whose narrative device elevates the experience. The novel also breaks the fourth wall, wherein both characters actually address the reader, making us complicit in the sordid drama—in essence, asking us to choose sides. This was extremely instructional for me in the writing of Loser Baby, which asks you to identify with not two but twelve characters as they pursue intertwined fates.


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The Sound and the Fury

By William Faulkner

Book cover of The Sound and the Fury

Why this book?

The Sound and the Fury offers the ultimate use of multiple perspectives, what might be called the bible of the form (along with Kurosawa’s groundbreaking film Rashomon). The tragedy of the Compson family is expressed through the stream-of-consciousness, non-linear, very unreliable voices of four characters—Benjy, Quentin, Jason, and Dilsey. Navigating your way through the narration can feel like solving a difficult puzzle, but the payoff is incredibly rewarding.

I’ve read this modern masterpiece three times, and I feel as if I haven’t yet fully read it. It’s a devastating novel filled with such depressing subjects as racism, suicide, misogyny, and incest, and yet its language is soaringly beautiful and intricate. The Sound and the Fury showed me how great art can be conjured out of darkest humanity.


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