Throughout the novel, Colin and Lindsey are both preoccupied with storytelling. Colin, however, doesn’t initially realize it. Colin conceives of the Theorem — the mathematical algorithm he is attempting to create — as being a kind of precision oracle that can predict the future of any future romance. When he first tells Lindsey about the Theorem, however, she responds that math is an interesting way to tell a story. Further, Lindsey often chides Colin for not being much of a storyteller. His problem, according to Lindsey, is that he strings together events without transitions and without forming them into a plot with a beginning, middle, and end. By the end of the novel, Lindsey helps Colin to realize that storytelling is not a predictive act, which can say with mathematical clarity what will happen. Rather, it is an interpretive act, and one over which the teller has influence.
Colin thinks of himself as being both the victim of his own romances with all the Katherines he has dated and as an objective narrator of those romances. It is only when Lindsey points out that he might not be taking all the variables of romance into account that Colin realizes he might be wrong on both counts: in seeing himself as a victim, and in believing himself to be a reliable narrator. When Colin shows Lindsey the Theorem, he has been struggling to write a version of the Theorem that accounts for Katherine III as well as all the other Katherines. Lindsey responds by insinuating that Colin is actually using the Theorem to tell a story, and that the simple math as he has written it cannot possibly accommodate all the intricacies of a true relationship. Lindsey’s comments lead Colin to realize that he might need to reassess what actually happened before he can attempt to write it down in math. Colin thus calls Katherine III, and discovers that he has in fact been an unreliable narrator of his own life. As it turns out, he has convinced himself that Katherine III dumped him when, in reality, he was the one who broke up with her. Colin has become so fixated on his role as the victim of dumpings by Katherines (and on dating Katherine after Katherine in an attempt to get it “right”) that he has reinterpreted true events to make himself the “Dumpee” in his relationship with Katherine III as well as all the others. With Lindsey’s help, then, Colin to see that he, and all people, are always telling themselves stories. “[Y]ou don’t remember what happened. What you remember becomes what happened.” Colin realizes that even his brain, which is very good at memorizing things, has the power to alter reality by retelling it according to the script to which it usually conforms. Put another way, Colin discovers that he has been living inside a story that he has been telling himself. In this story, he is the victim who always gets dumped. With this realization comes another, different realization: that the same events could also produce a different story.
While Lindsey insists that a story needs a beginning, a middle, and an end, the section headings of the novel cause the three phases of a story gradually to collapse into one another across the arc of the novel. The novel is told through interspersed scenes in the present and flashbacks to Colin’s relationships with the various Katherines. Each flashback is preceded by a subtitle such as, “The beginning of the beginning” or “the beginning of the middle.” These subheadings all build to one culminating flashback, called “The Beginning, and the Middle, and the End,” in which Colin tells Lindsey how he met, dated, and was dumped by each of the Katherines. While Colin is technically telling a linear story from beginning to end, this section falls at the end of the novel and serves as a moment of honesty from which Colin is to begin his relationship with Lindsey. In this way, the novel suggests that while any particular story needs a beginning, middle, and end, what is the end of one story can always serve as the beginning of another. Colin uses his Theorem to predict how long his relationship with Lindsey will last, and he gets the result of four days. And on that fourth day, the Theorem is proved right: Lindsey writes a note telling Colin that she has left him for Hassan. However, she then immediately reveals that she was just joking, and has no plans to break up with him. Although Lindsey frames the note as a joke, her joke makes the point that that there is no such thing as an unwavering script for life, that the past can never predict the future, and that nothing so simple as a Theorem can predict what his story will be.
At the end of the novel, Colin, Hassan, and Lindsey get into the car and drive off. He sees the road stretching out before them and can’t see its end. The endless road ahead is a metaphor for life, for a path Colin will learn only as he experiences it, even as he can choose where to go, when to turn. And it is a path with an ending he can’t yet know, just as Colin cannot yet know the full plot of his life from beginning to end. Any story he tells about his life will, by necessity, be subsumed into a greater unfolding story, the end of which is not yet in sight. Further, Colin realizes that the end of each smaller story is only a beginning or middle to this greater narrative, and that he has greater agency in telling his story than he previously thought.
Storytelling Quotes in An Abundance of Katherines
All I ever wanted was for her to love me and to do something meaningful with my life.
Prodigies can very quickly learn what other people have already figured out; geniuses discover that which no one has ever previously discovered. Prodigies learn; geniuses do. The vast majority of child prodigies don’t become adult geniuses. Colin was almost certain that he was among that unfortunate majority.
Driving was a kind of thinking, the only kind he could then tolerate. But still the thought lurked out there, just beyond the reach of his headlights: he’d been dumped. By a girl named Katherine. For the nineteenth time.
You’re a very special person. Colin would hear this a lot, and yet – somehow – he could never hear it enough.
He thought of Chicago, where you can go days without ever once stepping on a single patch of actual earth. That well-paved world appealed to him, and he missed it as his feet fell on uneven clumps of hardened dirt that threatened to twist his ankles.
He could just never see anything coming, and as he lay on the solid, uneven ground with Hassan pressing too hard on his forehead, Colin Singleton’s distance from his glasses made him realize the problem: myopia. He was nearsighted. The future lay before him, inevitable but invisible.
[Y]ou can see into the future if you have a basic understanding of how people are likely to act.
Like it or not, Colin thought, road trips have destinations.
No longer a prodigy, not yet a genius – but still a smartypants.
Authors never included the whole story; they just got to the point. Colin thought the truth should matter as much as the point, and he figured that was why he couldn’t tell good stories.
The missing piece in his stomach hurt so much – and eventually he stopped thinking about the Theorem and wondered only how something that isn’t there can hurt you.
You’re not boring. You’ve got to stop saying that, or people will start believing you.
“It’s funny, what people will do to be remembered.”
“Well, or to be forgotten, because someday no one will know who’s really buried there. Already a lot of kids at school and stuff think the Archduke is really buried here, and I like that. I like knowing one story and having everyone else know another. That’s why those tapes we made are going to be so great one day, because they’ll tell stories that time has swallowed up or distorted or whatever.”
And the moral of the story is that you don’t remember what happened. What you remember becomes what happened. And the second moral of the story, if a story can have multiple morals, is that Dumpers are not inherently worse than Dumpees—breaking up isn’t something that gets done to you; it’s something that happens with you.
As the staggered lines rushed past him, he thought about the space between what we remember and what happened, the space between what we predict and what will happen. And in that space, Colin thought, there was room enough to reinvent himself – room enough to make himself into something other than a prodigy, to remake his story better and different – room enough to be reborn again and again….There was room enough to be anyone – anyone except whom he’d already been, for if Colin had learned one thing from Gutshot, it’s that you can’t stop the future from coming. And for the first time in his life, he smiled thinking about the always-coming infinite future stretching out before him.