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So You’re Interested in Voice: A Reading List

So you’re searching for your voice? That elusive blend of tone, syntax, and style that is undeniably yours. The string of words and sentences that only you could have concocted. You want to tell stories that are twisted, zany, absurd, and deranged, and you want the way in which they are told to be just as distinct. To create prose that is dripping with voice, ooey-gooey eccentricity oozing from each page. Well, look no further than this list of voice-centric narratives, from authors with voices all their own.

Cruddy (1999) by Lynda Barry

“Once upon a cruddy time on a cruddy street on the side of a cruddy hill in the cruddiest part of a crudded-out town in a cruddy state, country, world, solar system, universe” begins the narrator, 16-year-old Roberta Rohbeson, who is “writing the cruddy book of her cruddy life” (Lynda Barry). The story, told through a highly unreliable, highly volatile narrator, jumps back and forth between her at 16-year-olds taking acid and her at 11-year-olds on a deadly road trip with her father. Reading this illustrated novel will take you on a journey that is grotesque, comical, and tragic, a journey like no other.

Luster (2020) by Raven Leilani

“His joy is raw in a way that makes me feel like I can unzip my skin suit and show him all the ooze inside,” says our narrator, Edie, a 23-year-old black woman traversing New York, a marital relationship, and her own traumatic past. “My father didn’t believe in anything,” she says, “and I was the only one who knew.” She’s curious, macabre, detached; through Edie’s voice, the narrative comes to life, often gruesomely, bluntly, violently.

No One Belongs Here More Than You (2007) by Miranda July

A collection of short stories that are deeply, sometimes disturbingly eccentric. From “Swim Team,” in which a lonely narrator teaches a trio of elderly citizens to swim on her apartment floor to “Mon Plaisir,” a story of a couple that finds their long-lost spark while acting together as extras in a movie––the stories are blends of darkness, comedy, and absurdity that is innately Miranda July’s.

“I cried in English, I cried in French, I cried in all the languages, because tears are the same all around the world,” says one of her offbeat narrators. “The world wasn’t safer than I had thought; on the contrary, it was so dangerous that my practically naked self fit right in, like a car crash, it happened every day,” says another.

Drive Your Plow Over the Bones of the Dead (2018) by Olga Tokarczuk

From Polish Nobel prize-winning author Olga Tokarczuk comes a spooky small-town story of murder, mystery, and eccentricity, told by a narrator who believes the secrets of the universe are intricately woven into the planets and stars, astrology, of which she is an expert. She’s called Mrs. Duszejko, though she calls no one else by their true names, but rather by names she’s bestowed upon them. Oddball, Big Foot, Good News, Black Coat.

An ailing older woman, she’s treated as an outsider, labeled a batty old woman, and in these pages we get a distinct portrait of her psyche, of her worldview, a quirky voice-driven story of fear, anger, and alienation.

More stories overflowing with voice: Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman, Suddenly a Knock at the Door by Etgar Keret, Eileen by Ottessa Moshfegh, Jesus’ Son, by Denis Johnson, Bunny by Mona Awad


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