Exploring the art of prose


Novel Structure: Multiple Points-of-View

In The Gypsy Moth Summer, Julia Fierro uses six different narrators to tell us the story of the inhabitants of a small island in New York during the summer of 1992. The novel is broken into five parts, with a prologue and epilogue, and the 51 chapters alternate between the six characters. As always, multiple points-of-view allow us to see characters through different lenses, and this works particularly well here. The characters become three-dimensional because we learn about them from many varied perspectives, and, in the process, the fictional world becomes real.

Two of the primary characters—Maddie, an island teenager, and Jules, an African-American man married to the daughter of the island’s wealthiest family—introduce us to this world and they each narrate 13 chapters of the novel, thereby telling half of the story. The other four point-of-view characters tell the rest of the story; one of the characters only narrates one chapter and that falls close to the center of the novel.

For the prologue and epilogue, Fierro uses an omniscient voice as both introduction and closure; the two sections are carefully knitted together. The omniscient voice works well here in part because Fierro employs many references to fairy tale and myth throughout the book, and an omniscient voice carries with it that primal sense of storytelling. There is a moment in the prologue when the voice switches from past to present tense, and we can feel the rush of a good story about to begin, in the way its voice is looking back from the end:

By summer’s end, all of Avalon will have seen too much to play make believe at love and war again. So let them believe for now. Let them play. Those girls with dimpled smiles and scraped knees, those young men, lean and long but still capable of blushing; those unformed, and perhaps better, versions of the men and women they will become.

The Gypsy Moth Summer, Julia Fierro
Macmillan, 2017

by Laura Spence-Ash