Episode Structure of Pullinger/Joseph Novels

The first point that I think must be made is the distinction between what we might think of as a “chapter” versus an “episode.” While the author and audience are obviously entitled to their own interpretations of these words, they typically follow this basic distinction. One often can accurately think of chapters as a way to divide one chronological tale into digestible sections; most chapters in novels take place in chronological order without much time spread between them (possibly a few hours, a week, or maybe even a year), and chapters on a DVD are always divided this way, as well. Episodes, on the other hand, do not demand a specific time gap, nor do they demand any sort of chronological order, or even have much to do with each other (think of shows on TV with non-continuous plotlines).

With the idea of an episode better defined, we can start by analyzing the use of them in Inanimate Alice. The entire story is told from a single person’s point of view, and the episodes are aligned chronologically. On the surface and most obviously, the chapters are divided according to the country Alice and her parents currently reside in; they are titled “China,” “Italy,” “Russia,” and “Hometown,” in that order. After reading the whole story (so far, as it appears to be incomplete according to the website), I quickly realized the episode divisions had more to them than just location: Alice’s age is different in every episode. After going back and reading through the earlier ones a second time, I was really able to feel a different tone in the younger episodes. Alice seemed more in her own world; her narrative dialogue is much simpler, sometimes to the point of being clueless, as a girl her age might have been. In the very first episode, while her mother is driving frantically through the dark, fear building inside her, Alice seems to be content playing her game, and a little irked once her mother forbids her to play it any longer. In a later episode, “Hometown,” Alice is age 14, and when the scaffolding on the building breaks and she is forced to pull herself up to keep from following, she jumps to the rather juvenile conclusion that she is “going to die.” An 8 year old likely would not even traverse up the scaffolding, and a grown adult would be able to make enough sense that this was not, in fact, a life-or-death situation.

Flight Paths makes a drastically different use of episodic divisions. The episodes were divided according to points of view. The first two were told by a man living in Dubai, the third and fifth by a woman living with her family in a town known as Richmond, and the fourth as a kind of “hybrid,” in which both points-of-view are told alongside each other simultaneously. What makes this format interesting is the complete lack of cohesion between the characters until they finally meet. Until that point, they might as well have been parts of entirely separate novels, as they shared no components as far as the reader was aware. The order of the episodes is not made clear; however, a chronological structure is compatible with the overall story. Part 2 obviously takes place after Part 1; Part 3 has no mention of time, but can be thought of as playing out while Yacub is up in the airplane before he is dropped; Part 4 takes place after the woman is done shopping (therefore after part 3), and Part 5 is after Yacub crashes into her car.

In writing an episodic novel like these, structured division are completely necessary to make sense to the readers; however, I feel like the structure of these episodes didn’t actually contribute much to the stories. That’s not to say the stories themselves were not good; I did enjoy them, but I don’t feel like it had a whole lot to do with how creative the author was in sectioning off their works.

–Scott Marnik

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~ by n00neimp0rtant on February 7, 2011.

 
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