Novels About Perception or Perspective

These novels show how a character perceives events at certain times in their life, whether accurate or not.

Sometimes the reader is given a wider perspective than any of the characters, allowing a fuller understanding of the events.

They might also show how people have different perspectives on the same events. Many of these novels have multiple narrators.

Perception & Perspective in Novels

Dinner at the Homesick Restaurant | Anne Tyler

Pearl Tull is on her deathbed. She remembers events from her life, including her children and when her husband, Beck, left the family. Pearl was tough on herself and her children; she wonders if they blame her for how their lives turned out. The subsequent chapters are told from the point of view of one of Pearl’s three children. Some of the things overlap, giving us multiple perspectives on a single event.

Absalom, Absalom! | William Faulkner

Thomas Sutpen arrives in Mississippi with a group of slaves and builds a plantation home. He is known for wrestling with his slaves. He marries Ellen Coldfield, the daughter in a poor family, and they have children. When the Civil War starts, father and son go to fight, along with Charles who is courting the daughter. The narrative continues through the war and return home. Four different narrators tell the story, adding relevant details and increasing our understanding of events.

The Sweet Hereafter | Russell Banks

In a small New York town, a bus accident has killed fourteen children. The accident and its after-effects are described by four different narrators – Dolores, the bus driver; Billy, a widower who lost his twins in the accident; Mitchell, a lawyer who starts building a case against the city; and Nichole, a beautiful and smart fourteen-year-old who ends up in a wheelchair.

Cry, the Beloved Country | Alan Paton

In Book I, Stephen Kumalo, a priest from a small South African community, gets a letter saying his sister is ill. He sets off for Johannesburg to help, and also to look for his son, Absalom. Book II presents some of the same events from the perspective of James Jarvis, a man who receives sad news and then heads for Johannesburg. Book III is told from the point of view of Kumalo and Jarvis.

Charming Billy | Alice McDermott

It is 1982 in the Bronx, and many people have gathered for the funeral party of Billy Lynch. Billy was an alcoholic who drained the people close to him. The narrative covers his relationship with Eva, a girl he loved; his wife Maeve, a patient, loyal woman; and the reason for his progression to full-fledged alcoholism. The multiple narrators who attend the funeral combine to give a picture of Billy.

A Yellow Raft in Blue Water | Michael Dorris

Three Native American women each narrate a section of this story from their own perspective. It’s told in reverse order starting with the granddaughter, then the mother, then the grandmother, with each narrative adding fresh information and enabling a new interpretation of previously told events.

As I Lay Dying | William Faulkner

Addie, the matriarch of the Bundren family, is on her deathbed, while her oldest son Cash is building her coffin. She dies soon after. The family is going to respect her request to be buried in her family’s burial ground, so they prepare for the forty mile journey. Friends and neighbors are advising against this difficult trip, but the family goes anyway. It’s narrated by many different people who each give their perspective.

Read “As I Lay Dying”

A Death in the Family | James Agee

Jay Follet gets a call late at night from his brother who says their father has had a heart attack. He says goodbye to his wife, Mary, and has a nice moment with her before driving off. We are given some background on their relationship and their religious faith. Jay eventually finds his father’s condition isn’t really serious. The focus of the story is Jay’s son, Rufus.

The Little Prince | Antoine de Saint-Exupery

The narrator remembers when his plane crashed in the Sahara desert. He meets a boy who wants him to draw, but the narrator wants to repair his engine. This little boy, the prince from the title, is from another planet. The prince has a treasured rose on his planet that he misses. Before coming to earth, the prince visited many asteroids, each with an inhabitant who behaved oddly. The prince has an innocent perception of life, different from most adults.

Read “The Little Prince”

When the Emperor Was Divine | Julie Otsuka

It is spring 1942 in California where a Japanese American woman is preparing to leave her home by government order. She packs what she can, tells the children they’ll be leaving the next day, and releases or kills the family’s animals. Her husband was arrested months ago. After staying at a temporary encampment for a while, the authorities ship them off to an internment camp in the Utah desert. The family adjusts to their new home. The story is told from multiple perspectives.

Nothing But the Truth: A Documentary Novel | Avi

Philip Malloy is a ninth grade student interested in running track but not particularly attentive in class. He has a difficult relationship with his English teacher, Miss Narwin. His low English grade prevents him from trying out for the team. Philip hums the national anthem as it plays over the PA. The official school policy is for students to be silent during the anthem. The issue leads to a standoff between the two. The story is told thru school memos, letters, telegrams, diary entries, and a newspaper article.

Waiting for the Rain | Sheila Gordon

Frikkie is a ten-year-old white boy who visits his uncle’s farm on school breaks. His friend Tengo, a black boy, lives there as his family works on the farm. Frikkie is eager to be done with school and begin his working life. Tengo years for an education; a cousin in Johannesburg arranges for him to get some old textbooks. The multiple-perspective narrative continues as they grow up together and their lives diverge as adults.

Martian Time-Slip | Philip K. Dick

Humans have colonized Mars. Businesses are vying for a large share of the profits, and there is black market activity. The natives, Bleekmen, are used as laborers in the mines and treated as sub-human by many. When a black market dealer kills himself, it sets events in motion that affect many of the planets residents.

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