It's been said that "every writer has only one story to tell."
How pessimistic and dismissive!
I think I might agree.
I say this as an author who fully intends to tell as many stories as I'm physically capable of between now and the inevitable heat death of the universe, and who really wants you to read them all.
I also say this as a reader who would gladly devour every single word that comes out of the brains of certain authors, no matter how many stories those words split into.
Still, I might agree.
If you boil it down, the point of the thought isn't "you have one book in you," it's "you keep returning to one theme, or set of themes, and every story you write, no matter what it's about on the surface, is really just about that."
Think of your favorite authors--can you really say it's not true?
Sure, Dickens is about child orphans and endless legal battles and jilted Victorian women and...
...maybe he's really just about revealing the dark underbelly of an extremely rigid culture. Maybe all of his stories are just "the more manicured the surface looks, the more hideous the things teeming just beneath it."
Or Roald Dahl--all those stories are so different! A peach filled with lifesize bugs that seagull-flies around the world? Witches hiding among us, turning some of us into mice? Telekinetic powers?
...all of these things, of course, being the amazing discoveries of children who are surrounded by incompetent, vile, and grotesque adults who don't appreciate them for what they are. Even Dahl's adult short fiction, while it doesn't share the childlike wonder element, shares the fascination with the grotesque and revolting. I think maybe the whole oeuvre is just that adulthood is essentially degraded childhood.
And then of course there are the authors--who I won't name, and in some cases, totally dig--where it's very obvious that they only write one book, because any of their characters could swap into any of their other novels, and speak just the same, think just the same, and it would all make logical sense, and they'd occupy the same role in that story as they do in their own.
It makes me wonder what my one story is. I have a sneaking suspicion that it's about how unknowable other people are. How what you think about someone almost never matches what they think about themselves, and when it does, it's still fundamentally lacking something. How we can only ever experience the world through our own heads, and therefore, can never really know another experience fully...or maybe at all.
Of course I'll have to write a few more books before the truth comes out about my inability to write more than just the one book. But knowing myself (imperfectly, sure, but better than YOU know me), I'm guessing that theme's got a top-3 chance of being where I wind up again, and again, and again.
What about you? Do you agree? Can you prove me wrong? What's the bones-level story you can't stop telling?