I've been reading a lot of literary fiction (LitFic) the last several years. I'm a dark fiction author and I love reading dark fiction, but I believe that reading the same thing you write without respite is akin to inbreeding. Sometimes the LitFic I read is great, sometimes so-so, and sometimes it just doesn't work for me. But isn't that the same with everything?
So what is LitFic? I suppose there are many definitions. If you are to believe Wikipedia, which in this case is as good as any source, the term LitFic is used to "distinguish serious fiction from the many types of genre fiction and popular fiction. In broad terms, literary fiction focuses more on style, psychological depth, and character, the plot may or may not be important. Mainstream commercial fiction focuses more on narrative and plot."
I think that's a specious definition. That genre fiction isn't serious relegates Fahrenheit 451 to the junk bin. The claim to have more style, depth and character, I also find to be applied a little too optimistically, reminding me of the bombastic mean of Thurston Howell III in Gilligan's Island, and how ridiculous his self important, self superior utterances were. Personally, good LitFic tells an important truth and is free from genre tropes. At the end of the day it's the publishing universe that decides what LitFic is, but this definition works for me. Especially the part about telling an important truth.
Allow me to give three examples of what I mean.
Aimee Bender's story Faces was published in the Winter 2009 edition of the Paris Review. This story is a about a young girl with the inability to recognize people as individuals. She cannot tell them apart using what most of us use, a person's face. To her, everyone is the same. Her mother can't understand how her daughter can't relate to people and things the same way as everyone else. At the core, this story is about mother-daughter acceptance. It's also about the truth that there are people out there that do not react to things in the same manner as the rest of us. Knowing this is important. Aimee presented the story from the girl's pov in a heartbreakingly exacting and inapolgetic narrative. Of interest, Faces was shortlisted for the Shirley Jackson Award.
collection, The Knife Thrower was so reminiscent to Ray Bradbury's ability to capture the quintessence of childhood wonder, it felt like a second coming. Of technical interest is the authors use of first person plural, making a group the protagonist, which lends greater strength to the story in its conclusion. A knife thrower comes to town as part of a circus. Little does the narrator know that there is a cult of masochistic women, who determine their own value on being cut by the knife thrower. When the final contestant/cultist is killed by the knife thrower, the narrator (pluralized as the community) doesn't believe it really happened because such things are too far fetched. Like Bender's writing, there's an element of fabulism in Millhouser's work, rendered skillfully through the prism of wonder held by all children, idealized as society in general. Of interest, this collection was short listed for the O'Henry Award.
Finally we come to Katherine Dunn's Rhonda Discovers Art, her first published work in 20 years. Dunn is the author of Geek Love, a truly amazing novel about the power of persuasion amidst a family of intentionally mutated carnival freaks. In Paper Cuts Blog, Gregory Cowles provides comment from the author regarding the story. “It operates in marginal subcultures and it stars determined though hapless dreamers,” she said. “It pits the art of violence against the violence of art.” Which is Dunn's forte. In the story, after Rhonda kills the bully of her brother, inadvertently causing the death of her brother in the process, she embarks on a life of listless abandon. That is until she is introduced to a performance artist named Ruggs, who stages a piece of art called "Stir Fry," where he sits naked in a bathtub full of water with an electrical current attached, and a switch which he begs the spectators to throw. Rhonda is determined to put him out if his misery, just as she did the bully, and for the first time in years, finds a meaning in her life.
These are three of the more recent works I've read that have left an indelible impression upon me. Seek them out if you get a chance and see if you are able to form the same opinion as me. And if not, let me know.
That's all for now.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Weston Ochse is a former intelligence officer and special operations soldier who has engaged enemy combatants, terrorists, narco smugglers, and human traffickers. His personal war stories include performing humanitarian operations over Bangladesh, being deployed to Afghanistan, and a near miss being cannibalized in Papua New Guinea. His fiction and non-fiction has been praised by USA Today, The Atlantic, The New York Post, The Financial Times of London, and Publishers Weekly. The American Library Association labeled him one of the Major Horror Authors of the 21st Century. His work has also won the Bram Stoker Award, been nominated for the Pushcart Prize, and won multiple New Mexico-Arizona Book Awards. A writer of more than 26 books in multiple genres, his military supernatural series SEAL Team 666 has been optioned to be a movie starring Dwayne Johnson. His military sci fi series, which starts with Grunt Life, has been praised for its PTSD-positive depiction of soldiers at peace and at war. Weston likes to be called a chaotic good paladin and challenges anyone to disagree. After all, no one can really stand a goody two-shoes lawful good character. They can be so annoying. It's so much more fun to be chaotic, even when you're striving to save the world. You can argue with him about this and other things online at Living Dangerously or on Facebook at Badasswriter. All content of this blog is copywrited by Weston Ochse.
Wednesday, August 18, 2010
Literary Fiction Review 1
Weston Ochse is the author of more than twenty books, most recently the SEAL Team 666 series which has been optioned by MGM Films. He's also the author of the Grunt Life series, a military science fiction series concentrating on the lives of PTSD survivors. His first novel, Scarecrow Gods, won the Bram Stoker Award for Superior Achievement in First Novel and his short fiction has been nominated for the Pushcart Prize. His work has appeared in comic books, and magazines such as Cemetery Dance and Soldier of Fortune. He lives in the Arizona desert within rock throwing distance of Mexico. He is a military veteran with more than 30 years of military service and currently returned from a deployment to Afghanistan.