10 novels told in interconnected short stories

10 novels told in interconnected short stories

A couple of weeks ago, we talked with author J. Ryan Stradal in the Modern Mrs. Darcy Book Club. Our conversation about his debut novel The Kitchens of the Great Midwest covered his impeccable rendition of Midwestern food and culture, what his grandmother thought of his first book, and how he crafted a novel written in cleverly connected short stories.

I’m a total nerd about book structure, so that conversation has been on my mind ever since. Novels that are told in this format often compel me to keep reading in order to find out how it all comes together, but they’re also easy to set down in between chapters and come back to later. That means they make for easy reads when my attention span needs a boost.

Today, I’m sharing a list of well-crafted novels told in short stories or vignettes that will keep you turning the pages—or compel you to slowly savor each chapter.

10 books written in short stories or vignettes

Einstein’s Dreams

Einstein’s Dreams

Author:
Calling this a novel is a stretch, but I'm eager to get it onto more readers' TBR lists, and the structure fits so well on this list. In 1905, young Albert Einstein dreamed repeatedly about time as he worked on his paper "On the Electrodynamics of Moving Bodies" and made creeping progress on his special theory of relativity. Each dream reveals "one of the many possible natures of time." Lightman presents these (entirely fictional) dreams as a collection of poetic vignettes. Small enough to read in an afternoon, but easy to wander in and out of. Unusual and utterly delightful. If you need more convincing, listen to Beth Wallen and I discuss this little book on a past episode of WSIRN. More info →
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Before We Visit the Goddess

Before We Visit the Goddess

One of the most recommended books on the What Should I Read Next podcast, this novel-in-stories tracks three generations of Indian women and their fraught relationships. The title comes from a chance encounter one of these women has with a stranger, which is fitting because my favorite parts of the story deal with the small moments that change the course of a person's life, and the unlikely friendships that do the same. This is a wonderful, beautiful, and sad book, and I can't stop recommending it. Listen to me describe this book on Episode 48: It’s good to be a Special Readerly Snowflake. More info →
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Homegoing

Homegoing

Author:
By exploring the stories of two sisters, who met different fates in Ghana more than 200 years ago, Gyasi traces subtle lines of cause and effect through the centuries, illuminating how the deeds of ages past still haunt all of us today. Her debut follows the generations of one family over a period of 250 years, showing the devastating effects of racism from multiple perspectives, in multiple settings. For the first hundred pages I didn't quite grasp what the author was up to, but when it hit me it was powerful (and the family tree in the front of the book helped me track the characters). A brilliant concept, beautifully executed in short-story-like chapters that span centuries. More info →
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Kitchens of the Great Midwest: A Novel

Kitchens of the Great Midwest: A Novel

Author:
Stradal’s novel-in-stories spans more than thirty years and takes us to half as many kitchens, introducing us to fancy chefs and Lutheran church ladies, portraying the food of a region and the unlikely threads that bind us, with a satisfying, full-circle ending. We got to talk with Stradal in book club, and we asked bunch of questions about his writing process, the structure of the novel, and his Midwestern ties. Gracious and charming, he revealed his literary inspirations and a sweet story about his grandmother. You can watch the video replay in our library with your book club membership. More info →
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A Visit from the Goon Squad

A Visit from the Goon Squad

Author:
J. Ryan Stradal cited Egan's novel as a major inspiration for The Kitchens of the Great Midwest (which I didn't see until he mentioned it, but now it totally makes sense). In interlocking stories, we meet several different characters who all circle Bennie Salazar, a former punk rocker and music executive, and Sasha, his employee. Crossing continents and character arcs, the reader uncovers secrets and side stories that are unbeknownst to the central characters, Bennie and Sasha. A compelling book about time, music, and fate—and ambitiously told in different styles and formats throughout each chapter. More info →
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Olive Kitteridge

Olive Kitteridge

Retired schoolteacher Olive is not keen about the way her small Maine town is changing. Through a series of interconnected short stories, we get to know Olive's family and some of the townspeople as they each grapple with their respective problems. Each story is written with care and offers some hope as Olive comes to have a better, more honest understanding of herself and those around her. If you enjoy Strout's writing and the short story format, be sure to pick up Olive, Again, which meets Olive later in life. More info →
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There There: A Novel

There There: A Novel

Author:
Orange's multigenerational, multi-voiced novel offers a nuanced glimpse into contemporary Native American life in Oakland, California through the experiences and perspectives of twelve wide-ranging characters. As they prepare for the city's first Big Oakland Powwow at the Oakland Coliseum, the lives of Orange's diverse characters become intertwined: an aspiring filmmaker, a man who's taught himself traditional Native dance with YouTube videos, a woman traveling to meet her grandchildren for the first time—on the condition that she remains sober. I'm amazed at how each distinct voice rings true, and how he weaves the disparate storylines together. It's also full of triggers, so sensitive readers be aware. More info →
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The House on Mango Street

The House on Mango Street

Author:
This modern classic is a coming-of-age almost-memoir of a young Latina girl, Esperanza Cordero, who is inventing the woman she will grow up to be. The story unfolds as a series of vignettes—some joyful, some heartbreaking—that draw the reader deep into her Hispanic Chicago neighborhood. Esperanza's observations feel at once highly specific and incredibly universal, as she reflects on growing up on Mango Street, and how she eventually wants to leave. More info →
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Love Medicine

Love Medicine

Author:
Toni Morrison said “the beauty of Love Medicine saves us from being completely devastated by its power." Erdrich's debut novel reads like a series of connected short stories, drifting back and forth between two intertwined Ojibwe families. Vignettes of drama, healing, justice, and magic reveal the tight bond between the Kashpaws and Lamartines. Told with Erdrich's signature poetic style, her first work is certainly worth reading. More info →
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Disappearing Earth

Disappearing Earth

Author:
Told over the course of one year on the Kamchatka peninsula, this uniquely structured novel takes us to "places of astonishing beauty: densely wooded forests, open expanses of tundra, soaring volcanoes, and glassy seas." When two sisters, ages eight and eleven, go missing on the shoreline of northeast Russia, their tight-knit community is deeply affected. In alternating chapters that read like short stories, the reader gets to see how each character is impacted: everyone from the neighbor, to the detective, to the mother. And in this isolated region, we see how a community can come together or fall apart in the midst of fear and crisis. More info →
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Do you have more books-in-short-stories to add to our list? Tell us about them in the comments section!

P.S. If this list suits your reading mood, try 14 books with thought-provoking structures and 8 novels that are delightfully self-aware about the writing process.

10 novels told in interconnected short stories

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99 comments | Comment

99 comments

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  1. Jennifer Bubb says:

    It’s been years since I’ve read The Unaccustomed Earth by Jhumpa Lahiri but aren’t those stories loosely linked?

  2. Carolyn says:

    Girl in Hyacinth Blue by Susan Vreeland. This books follows the ownership of a painting that may be a secret work by Vermeer.

  3. This format makes me think of “And the Mountains Echoed” by Khaled Hosseini. I loved how the story unfolded and became more complex with each chapter as the perspective of another character was revealed. The interconnectedness of our lives is so easy to forget, but the impact we have on the people in our lives is undeniable.

  4. Lisa G says:

    The Tsar of Love and Techno by Anthony Marra. Amazing book set in Russia. Had me searching the web for “ did that really happen?” as well as loving author’s incredible descriptions of people and place. A 5 star read for me.

    • Pam P says:

      Blackbird House, which is my favorite Alice Hoffman book (and one of my all-time favorite books, period), was my immediate thought, too. Although I’ve read a LOT of her work, I haven’t read The Red Garden yet – I’ll have to check it out.

  5. Georgia says:

    The Girls’ Guide to Hunting and Fishing by Melissa Bank is one of my favorite books. I don’t tend to like short stories so I love how they’re all (save one) centered on the same lovable, quirky, confused character.

  6. Lisa says:

    I was happy to see Einstein’s Dreams. I just started reading that for my THIRD time yesterday!
    Another book, totally different, in this format that I read and enjoyed recently is Lovecraft Country. It’s a weird scifi/horror/ historical book. I liked it so much more than I expected to.

    • Rachel E. says:

      I know! I was surprised to see this not on the list! It rightly won a Booker Prize. It’s delicious how it’s put together, with a slow dawning that everyone is interconnected in ways you didn’t expect.

      • Tory says:

        I didn’t realize the short stories in this book were connected! Especially if the connections are a slow burn, that’s my favorite. It’s on my shelf but I haven’t read it yet, now I want to pick it up soon!

    • Catherine says:

      Yes! I also really enjoyed Girl, Woman, Other. The structure hooked me.

      A couple others that I have enjoyed with this structure are Frying Plantain by Zalika Reid-Benta and That Time I Loved You by Carrianne Leung.

      • Lis M says:

        I recently finished Frying Plantain by Zalika Reid-Benta and totally want to read more short stories because of it – so good! I have “Girl Woman Other” sitting on my shelf and am going to move it up my list since they seem comparablish.

  7. Susan Searight says:

    I recommend Moonshine, Muffins & a Boat Named Helen, by Susan Adger. Richly drawn characters & sense of place in this book of short stories. 👍

  8. Jo says:

    I would definitely add “The Starless Sea” by Erin Morgenstern to the list. Every other chapter (for most of the book) is a seemingly unconnected short story. It’s so beautifully written.

    • Kara says:

      This one is near the top of my TBR list! One of my reading goals for the year is to read at least one book with an unusual structure so nearly all of the books on this list (I’ve already read Olive Kitteridge) and in the comments are strong contenders!

    • Megan says:

      So I LOVED The Night Circus, but have been struggling to get into The Starless Sea. I’ve tried both print and audio. The writing is beautiful, but the story and characters aren’t drawing me in in quite the same way. How long did it take you to get into it? I probably just need to give it another go.

      • Lisa Runge says:

        I definitely don’t think The Starless Sea is for everyone – or even for every season. I liked it, but it was so meandering – and The Night Circus was such a tight, dazzling story. I don’t think liking The Night Circus will necessarily mean you like Starless Sea.

      • KTC says:

        Megan, I felt the same way and finally gave up reading it halfway through because her writing style was starting to grate on me. (So. Many. Short. Sentences.) I read instead The Ten Thousand doors of January and Piranesi and enjoyed those more. I think readers have been more divided on this one than on The Night Circus (which I also loved!)

  9. M Wynne says:

    The Girl in Hyacinth Blue by Susan Vreeland. The story of a painting through it’s owners going back in time ending with the painter, Vermeer

    • WordTrix says:

      Winesburg, Ohio was one of the two that immediately came to my mind. The other was Spoon River Anthology by Edgar Lee Masters.

  10. Jacalyn Wilson says:

    Maybe this book fits your request for novel-in-short stories:
    The Angel’s Pen by Jacalyn Wilson. Five stories connected by a common thread… the angel’s pen!
    The primary story is about Dr. Maggie Jones, an English professor, who needs a little nudge to step forward into a meaningful life, unhampered by the past. During her Christmas break, she accepts a job to edit an anthology of four stories. The four stories are meant to change her life.
    If you’re interested in taking a closer look, I’d be happy to send or gift you a copy of the book.
    Thanks!
    Jacalyn Wilson

  11. Sarah G says:

    This post couldn’t have been more timely! I just finished There There last night and was blown away by the story structure. Putting the 7 books I haven’t read from this list on my TBR now.

  12. Casey Tibbles says:

    I enjoyed Three Junes by Julia Glass, a novel divided into three separate stories involving the characters in one family over the course of three separate summers spread over many years. It was slow to start, but once I got to the second story, the pieces began to fall together and I fell in love with the characters.

  13. Colleen says:

    Loved Kitchens of the Great Midwest.

    Publish date of April 1, 2021 is Everyone Dies Famous in a Small Town by Bonnie-Sue Hitchcock. She really masters the “linked short story” format. I thought it was a really good read. Love the mother’s punishment to the daughter who lifted a candy bar.

  14. Michelle Wilson says:

    I adore interlocking short stories. What about Winesburg, Ohio by Sherman Anderson. I haven’t read it but it is a modern classic that has been on my shelf for years.

  15. Wendy Barker says:

    Let me recommend several Canadian writers besides Alice Munro who write connected short stories:
    L. M. Montgomery(The Blythes Are Quoted and The Road to Yesterday)
    Robertson Davies (High Spirits)
    Spider Robinson (any of the Callahan Saloon books)
    Andre Alexis (Fifteen Dogs)
    Stuart Maclean (any of his Vinyl Cafe books)
    Vincent Lam (Bloodletting and Miraculous Cures)
    W.P. Kinsella (The Thrill of the Grass and Dance Me Outside)

  16. Marcia says:

    People of the Book by Geraldine Brooks. This is one of my favorite books, and the structure is so interesting. I read it twice to really capture all the history behind “the book.”

  17. ClaraB says:

    Just finished a galley of Joan Silber’s ‘Secrets of Hqppiness,’ which comes out in May. Before this I had only read Silber’s previous book, ‘Improvement,’ and liked it so much that I was on the lookout for her latest.

    Silber is an exceptional writer, and packs so much into these short books that in each case I wanted to start again after I’d finished. But what I appreciate most is the empathy she shows her characters and her regard for the joy of connection.

    • Susan V says:

      I really loved The One in a Million Boy, and also her memoir, When We Were the Kennedys, a Memoir from Mexico Maine. I liked that just as much as the OIAMB!

  18. Liesl says:

    “Honeycomb” by Joanne Harris is structured like this – it comes out May 25. I really enjoyed it (was a little saddened by the ending, but what can you do?). It can be tough to see how the stories tie together at first, and then you start to see how they are woven together as you read on. It’s a fantasy set in a fairy world, which makes it even more magical.

  19. Megan says:

    I loved “The Tsar of Love & Techno” by Anthony Marra. It was almost a historical fiction with stories starting in the USSR in the 30’s through the present time. Extremely sad but beautiful.

  20. Adrienne says:

    The book that came to my mind was Case Histories, by Kate Atkinson, which is the first book in the Jackson Brodie series. The story is told through three cases that at first seem unconnected. It’s been a long time since I read this, but I remember the Aha! moment when things fell into place and the connections between the stories became clear.

  21. Jessica says:

    I am going to have to add all of these to my TBR! I LOVE interconnected short stories so much. So happy to see There There on this list (one of my favorite books ever).

  22. Lanne says:

    Maeve Binchy is fun to read around St Patrick’s day. Two of her books that are interconnected short stories are The Lilac Bus and A week in Winter.

  23. Noell B says:

    If you’re ever looking for a good middle grades book structured like this, check out The Brooklyn Nine. It was a Battle of the Books book for my son in middle school. He is 22 now and I still think about this book. Loved it!

  24. Vicki Beddingfield says:

    A Single Swallow by Zhang Ling is one of the most beautifully written books I’ve read in awhile. It tells the individual stories of three men who, at the end of World War 11, made a pact that after their deaths their souls would return for a meeting at the Chinese village where they had fought and survived the war and where they had each been profoundly changed by the same woman known as Swallow.

  25. Joy Shelden says:

    Sandra Dallas’ “Whiter Than Snow” – keep tissues handy.

    The House on Mango Street is one of my favorites!

  26. adrianne carnes says:

    In Anne’s email she mentions J. Ryan Stradal’s debut novel, Lutheran cookbooks. I can’t find this book though…..can you send me a link?

  27. MJ says:

    The Imperfectionists by Tom Rachman (2010) is such a brilliant example of this that once I finished I returned to the beginning to re-read the early stories with all the information I learned along the way. A completely delightful experience!

  28. Brittany says:

    Homegoing was one of those books that stuck with me for a long time! It’s hard to say I “enjoyed” this book, but I can definitely say that it was powerful.

  29. Maria Ontiveros says:

    The Cactus League by Emily Nemens. Helps to have an interest in baseball, but it’s really a study in human nature

  30. Emma says:

    ‘Little Eyes’ by Samanta Schweblin, one of my favourite authors in translation. She uses a series of vignettes, some of them once-off and some of them sustained, to interrogate a world in which the line between “toy” and surveillance device has become porous. Her world is fictional but feels so believable.

  31. The first pick on your list reminds me of a book I keep suggesting to people as well that I LOVED in 2019. It’s The Storyteller’s Secret by Sejal Badani. Its tells a beautiful sad story of and pain and long kept secrets. It’s told through the POV of the MC, Jaya as well as her grandmother, Amisha, and the link to them, Amisha’s house servant, Ravi.It actually made me cry. Happy reading!

  32. Megan Pierson says:

    Evening Class by Maeve Binchy was
    The start of her ‘modern’ Dublin (at the time of writing) stories and each chapter introduces a member of the titular Evening Class. Many of these characters go on to their own stories in subsequent novels. I think I need a reread binge….

  33. Alyson Woodhouse says:

    Yes, Maeve Binchy is a good shout for fairly light-hearted inter-connected short story collections: Evening Class, Whitethorn Woods and so on.

  34. Katie says:

    I was excited to finally read Olive Kitteridge after hearing about it for years. And… I hated it. I loved the format, but just could not stand Olive. I read (listened) to the second one hoping it would be better and Olive could be redeemed for me. But I disliked that one even more, womp womp. I am interested in trying more novels of this format though!

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