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Archive for May 9th, 2007

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Paraspheres: Extending Beyond the Spheres of Literary and Genre Fiction
Edited by Rusty Morrison and Ken Keegan
Omnidawn Publishing
http://www.omnidawn.com
ISBN: 1-890650-18-8
Copyright 2006
Release date: August 2006
Trade Paperback, $19.95, 640 pages
Anthology/New Wave Fabulist Fiction

In the United States, most published fiction falls under two categories: “genre fiction” and “literary fiction.”

According to Ken Keegan, editor at Omnidawn Publishing, genre fiction, which accounts for about 90% of all fiction published, is often defined as “escapist,” usually follows a “winning” formula, and seldom has any lasting literary value. Literary fiction (also referred to as narrative fiction), which accounts for the remaining 10% of all fiction published, is primarily realistic and possesses more depth, characterization and lasting cultural impact. (625-8)

But what happens to fiction that doesn’t fit into one of these categories? Novels like The Mists of Avalon, Brave New World, or Life of Pi, for instance—works that have unrealistic settings or plots and aren’t officially “literary,” yet have incredible depth and power?

As we all know, necessity is the mother of invention. Thus, in the Fall 2002 issue of Conjunctions, the literary journal from Bart College, a new term was coined: New Wave Fabulist. Put simply, New Wave Fabulist is non-realistic, literary fiction. You may also think of it as literary fiction with strong elements of horror, science fiction or fantasy.

Looking back, other terms have been used to describe this type of fiction: magic realism and speculative. Yet magic realism is chiefly associated with Latin American novelists like Gabriel Garcia Marquez, whose One Hundred Years of Solitude greatly exemplifies it. On the other hand, speculative fiction disregards literary quality, making it impossible to always represent serious works.

Omnidawn’s latest anthology, Paraspheres: Extending Beyond the Spheres of Literary and Genre Fiction, excellently illustrates New Wave Fabulist fiction. The carefully crafted stories, fifty in all, combine elements of magic realism, the paranormal, science fiction, fantasy, mythology, fable, dream vision, even fairy tale, yet are serious literary works filled with symbolism and allegorical power, inviting the reader to ponder at their underlying meaning.

The authors, many of who have won prestigious prizes such as the Nebula, Hugo, Kafka, and National Book Awards, and who have published works in such renown publications as Ploughshares, Chicago Review, The American Life, The Literary Review, Pearl, Pleiades, The Berkeley Fiction Review, American Literary Review and Glimmer Train, among others, offer the reader an interesting array of styles, plots, settings and character studies.

In “Skunk,” by Justin Courter, the reader takes a mesmerizing glimpse into the mind of a man who has a skunk fetish: “The first time I took skunk musk straight, the effects were overwhelming. I held Homer over my head, squeezed a full shot straight down my throat, and was aware of a burning sensation in my sinuses for an instant before I blacked out. I awoke on the ground, with little idea of how much time had passed. By overdosing the first few times I drank musk, I missed out on much of the experience. Measuring my dosage, I found I could administer myself just enough to induce a sense of euphoria without passing out. Instead of squeezing a full shot directly down my throat, I squeezed Homer over a glass and then used an eyedropper to obtain a single droplet I let fall to my tongue.” (421) Needless to say, the story stands as a metaphor for the protagonist’s dark childhood.

Contrasting with this morbidity is “The Tree,” by Noelle Sickels, which begins as a sweet fairy tale: “Long ago, in a land very far from here, there lived a prince and princess. They had a comfortable castle, which, by magic, stayed clean and in good repair.”(382) Not necessarily what you would call a beginning for a serious work of fiction, except this story turns out to be a serious allegory with a powerful message about gender roles.

Stories like “The Ice-Cream Vendor,” by Leena Krohn, have strong elements of science fiction in it, while others like “Third Initiation: A Gift From the Land of Dreams,” by Mary Mackey, combine dream vision and myth.

“The Town News,” also by Justin Courter, tells the paranormal story of a young man who is cursed with the “gift” of being able to visualize people’s future deaths as soon as he meets them. Poignant, beautifully written and filled with emotional intensity, this is one of the best stories in the anthology.

Many unforgettable images fill the pages of this book. The following is from “The Secret Paths of Rajan Khanna,” by Jeff Vandermeer. Notice how the language flows to create this haunting visual image: “…Rajan notices the boy off to the side, thrown clear, probably a pedestrian, and the way he sits under a newly planted tree, as if broken in on himself, a blotch of blood spreading across his side, and at first all Rajan can focus on is the spray of blood across the scattered snow, and the way the red, under the lights, doesn’t deepen but diffuses as it widens, until it’s pink and crystallized in the cold, and then just a shade deeper than the white.” (476)

In spite of the subject versatility among the stories, one thing ties them together—their authors’ faithfulness to the craft and a sharp, fresh imagination.

At the end of the book, Ken Keegan includes an intriguing and fascinating essay about New Wave Fabulist Fiction—its origins, history, and hopeful future.

Though the term is controversial, and most scholars will never accept a Fantasy or Science Fiction novel—no matter its depth or sociological impact—as “real” literature, one thing is for sure: New Wave Fabulist Fiction is a strong force to be reckoned with. Most importantly, it is a necessity for those gifted, consummate authors out there who give as much importance to the imagination as they give to the depth of thought and beauty of language.

Mayra Calvani is an author and book reviewer. Visit her website at www.mayracalvani.com

*This review was originally published in The Bloomsbury Review

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