No Ping Pong Here: Dual Points of View in The Black Hour

ping-pong-paddlesTackling more than one point of view is a difficult thing to do well, for any author. It’s especially difficult for a debut author. And when the points of view are of opposite genders… well, let’s just say that a first-time novelist might be biting off more than she can chew, getting in over her head, or [insert other cliche here]. You get the point.

Deb Lori Rader-Day took on the challenge of a dual viewpoint in her debut novel, The Black Hour, and did so with such skill that I could not imagine the story told any other way. She expertly alternates between the points of view of Amelia Emmet, a sociology professor, and her graduate assistant, Nathaniel Barber.

Emmet, who is still recovering emotionally and physically from a shooting injury inflicted by a student, is lost in a life that once felt familiar. Now her office has been remodeled, she walks with a cane, and her former live-in boyfriend/boss is newly married to someone else. Meanwhile, Barber is both depressed and obsessed–obsessed with Professor Emmet, that is, and unraveling the story behind the violent act that nearly killed her.

With these two points of view, and the gaps in age, power, and gender, the narrative could easily feel like a ping pong game, with the reader hopping from one character’s head to the other. But Lori uses the gaps in viewpoints to her advantage. She reveals glimpses of the characters’ backstories with perfect pacing, urging the reader to keep turning pages to get answers, which she brilliantly withholds until the end. A dual viewpoint, with two distinct voices, proves the perfect vehicle for delivering this thrilling story.

What are some books you’ve enjoyed that employ multiple points of view?

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Susan Gloss is the author of the novel VINTAGE (William Morrow/HarperCollins, March 2014). When she's not writing, toddler wrangling, or working as an attorney, she blogs at Glossing Over It and curates an online vintage store, Cleverly Curated.

3 thoughts on “No Ping Pong Here: Dual Points of View in The Black Hour

  1. I loved this about The Black Hour, too! Come to think of it, most of my favorite novels feature alternate points of view. I think I just really enjoy seeing things from many perspectives, because there are always more sides to a story.

  2. The one that immediately leaps to mind is To Have and Have Not, by Hemingway, which is a negative example (no writer, no matter how great, can do everything well 🙂 ). (The movie, on the other hand, is one of my all-time favorites — mostly because they used so little of the book.)

    I think every story tells you how it should be told – – you just have to listen and not worry about anything else. My first novel is about two-thirds in third person omniscient and then goes to first person for the ending. I wouldn’t teach that in a writing class, but it worked for that book.

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