by Natalya Bekhta
The Ohio State University Press, 2020
eISBN: 978-0-8142-7804-8 | Cloth: 978-0-8142-1441-1
Library of Congress Classification PN3503.B426 2020
Dewey Decimal Classification 809.3923

Winner, 2021 Perkins Prize from the International Society for the Study of Narrative

Natalya Bekhta’s We-Narratives: Collective Storytelling in Contemporary Fiction analyzes a storytelling form shaped by the pronoun “we,” probing the tensions between individuality and collectivity in more recent narratives in English. Despite a growing interest in collective characters and the we-form in narratology and beyond, narrative theory has not yet done justice to the plural voice in fiction. In fact, the formulation of a poetics of collective expression needs clear theoretical conventions and a reassessment of established concepts in order to approach plural voices and agents on their own terms. We-Narratives addresses this demand by distinguishing between indicative and performative uses of the first-person plural pronoun in fiction and by identifying formal and rhetorical possibilities of stories told by group narrators.

What does it mean for a multitude to speak as one? How can a truly collective narrative voice be achieved or lost? What are its aesthetic and political repercussions? In order to tackle these questions, Bekhta reads a range of contemporary novels and short stories by Jeffrey Eugenides, Joshua Ferris, Toby Litt, Zakes Mda, Joyce Carol Oates, and Julie Otsuka. She also focuses on narrative innovation by Margaret Atwood, William Faulkner, and Susan Sontag. These narratives feature group protagonists and narrators and therefore offer insight into collective narrative discourse and focalization, construction of communal knowledge and unreliability. We-narrative, taken as a distinct storytelling form, illuminates fiction’s expressive potential and nuances models of narrative analysis.