A compendium of fictional satires, parodies and other attempts to transform commonplace forms into literary art.
In his Reality Hunger (2010), co-editor Shields agitated for new forms of fiction that eschew standard-issue realism and integrate more of life as it’s truly lived. The 40 pieces collected here, most published in the past two decades, represent one subgenre of experimentation, showcasing tweaks of everyday documents like interviews, how-to guides, academic papers and more. Many are comic pieces that shed light on the restrictiveness of the form being mocked. Jack Pendarvis’ “Our Spring Catalog,” for instance, pokes fun at the hollow enthusiasm of book publishers’ promotional blurbs, while George Saunders’ “I CAN SPEAK!” ventriloquizes the soothing tone of customer-service letters—the story becomes more brilliantly absurd as the corporate functionary defends a contraption that purports to translate toddler-speak into English. This isn’t strictly an assortment of send-ups, however. Daniel Orozco’s “Officers Weep” uses the format of the police blotter to shift from just-the-facts crime listings to a glimpse into the force’s existential musings. Charles Yu’s “Problems for Self-Study” cleverly employs the language of story problems to illuminate a couple’s connection and separation, while Charles McLeod’s heartbreaking “National Treasures” encapsulates the narrator’s hard-knock life in the form of an auction catalog. There are some ringers here—Lorrie Moore’s “How to Become a Writer” doesn't truly tweak how-to language—while social-media riffs like Kari Anne Roy’s “Chaucer Tweets the South by Southwest Festival” show that the form is still evolving as fodder for effective fiction. But in the aggregate, these stories suggest a few future directions for storytelling, and Shields and Vollmer (English/Virginia Tech; Future Missionaries of America, 2009) convincingly press the necessity of the task—these pieces represent “our oft-repressed language staging a rebellion.” Other noteworthy contributors include Amy Hempel, Lydia Davis, Jonathan Safran Foer, Paul Theroux and Rick Moody.
Some pieces rebel better than others, but there’s ample inspiration for comic and serious fiction authors alike.