Aristotle, in his Poetics, argued for what are frequently referred to as the Unities. There are three:

• The unity of Action, which argues, in essence, that a work should trace the development of a single central action or purpose. It’s like the argument that an essay should stay focused on its thesis: Every part of a work should contribute to the development of its central idea, and there should be no subplots that are not directly relevant to the central action.

• The unity of Place, which decrees that a work’s action will occupy a single geographical location.

• And the unity of Time, which decrees that all of a work’s action will take place within a 24-hour period.

Eighteen Crossroads defies all of these “rules.” For starters, there are eighteen protagonists. Not one. Eighteen. Nearly all of the stories are written in the first person, and they all involve a variety of subplots that are not always clearly relevant—in fact, are quite often, and quite intentionally, not clearly relevant—to the novel’s central theme. That’s Strike One.

Strike Two: There is no apparent Unity of Place. The stories are set not just in New Jersey, Michigan, Florida, and California, but also in Poland. The “Unity of Place” in this novel is not a geographical location.

And as for Strike Three, there is also no Unity of Time, as the novel’s action (or rather, actions, since there are many) take place over a span, not of twenty-four hours, but of a hundred years. To make things worse, third-generation characters are quite often older than first-generation characters, and the youngest person in the book, so far, is a second-generation character.

All of this seeming confusion is intentional, but I’d be lying if I said I hadn’t spent some little time worrying about my work’s failure to adhere to Aristotle’s Unities.

I console myself with the reminder that Aristotle also said, “the structural union of the parts [must be] such that, if any one of them is displaced or removed, the whole will be disjointed and disturbed” (

None of the parts of the book can be displaced or removed without disjointing and disturbing the whole. Each story matters, as each member of any family matters to that family. In that sense, it adheres to all of the unities–and so it is from this position that I justify the existence of this novel in its present seemingly dis-unified form. I’m not actually breaking the rules–just bending them a little.

I always was a bit of a rebel.