Photo by Didssph via Unsplash There's something viscerally appealing about nesting dolls. The same holds true, I'd argue, for nesting narratives. Each new layer to the story can either reveal or obscure the capital-t Truth at its center. Sometimes both! As a magazine writer and editor, I'm particularly aware of the difficulties intrinsic to writing about other people's lives. Nesting doll—or frame—narratives confront that particular anxious itch: in them, the narrators (often writers) disappear for long stretches, or reveal themselves slowly, or crumble under the weight of the stories they're telling. In my novel, The Mythmakers , a young journalist reads a short story by an author she met years earlier and finds signs that the story is about her. When she learns that the author has died, but that his widow lives not too far away, she abandons her life in Brooklyn to track the woman down upstate. What follows are glimpses into the lives of the couple, their families, and friends: a teenage future physicist living in Houston at the height of the space race, a mysterious therapist with a commune in the woods, a classical pianist grappling with failure. I love reading about writers, but I also love abandoning what I know and sinking into a story about people with desires and professions that don't resemble mine. Here are stories that have the best of both worlds—books worth swallowing whole. Pnin by Vladimir Nabokov Pnin by Vladimir Nabokov On its surface, the book reads as a comic portrait of bumbling Russian professor Timofey Pnin. He does strange things to the English language, his ex-wife walks all over him, he's the butt of his colleagues' jokes. But from the very first page a puppetmaster lurks between the lines, and as the story progresses it becomes increasingly clear that one particular narrative thread holds the key to seeing the truth below the attractive gauze of storytelling—a subtle nesting doll in reverse. Take a break from the news We publish your favorite authors—even the ones you haven't read yet. Get new fiction, essays, and poetry delivered to your inbox. […]
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