I picked up Overlapping Lives, by Andrew Dicker, on a whim. I was looking for a quick read, something not too long or difficult, and what I found instead was an unconventional group of stories that really challenged and excited me. I would definitely recommend this book, and here’s why.
Overlapping Lives is technically a collection of short stories and has that short-story voice: a lot of narration and character development, each with a satisfying and/or surprising conclusion that makes you stop and stare at the page in awe. But it’s also kind of a novel, because the short stories each discuss a character within a larger narrative. Each “story-chapter” features a main character connected to all the other characters, making each episode an in-depth look at the story from a different character’s perspective, filtered through the lens of their life experiences, personalities, and circumstances. It’s such an interesting format and concept, and it works so well!
Overlapping Lives is also so rich when it comes to the subject matter. It’s about “the lives of fictional characters and events from the 1960s to the present day” and explores themes of murder, imprisonment, cruelty, kindness, love, sexuality, intimacy, forgiveness and acceptance. I just adore the opening paragraph, which is probably my favorite quote of the whole book:
“The sonorous clangour of the cell door slamming shut was like a final toll. Julie had been deprived of her liberty but in the process had freed herself from the mental daemons which threatened her life. The man who had been the source of her turmoil was dead. She had killed him.”
My favorite character was the murderer Julie, described above, a character who endures depression, rape, and despair, and who finds both relief and the restoration of her self esteem when she kills her abuser. The way her story is told makes her not only an incredibly sympathetic and complex character, but also raises questions about the effect sexual abuse has on the female psyche, about how intimacy can be shared among people after they’ve been terribly abused, and what, if anything, is justifiable murder.
The writing is absolutely glorious! It’s a little overwrought but somehow, the florid writing only adds to the charm of this book, instead of making it feel overwritten. I think the characters are very well developed, and the plot and themes are spot on. The few critiques I have are that the second batch of “stories” fall a little flatter than the first half, but when you begin a book with a double murder, there are few ways to top that.