Stranger than fiction

In college and the early years proceeding it, Isabel Allende was one of my favorite writers. Her words had a lilting rhythm and the stories were caught somewhere between folktale, historical fiction, and fantasy. I remember reading Zorro while traveling through Spain during the spring break of my semester abroad. Allende’s style had the magical realism I’d studied in Latin American writers like Jorge Luis Borges and Julio Cortazar, but hers was more accessible and little more grounded in reality. I was enchanted.

kw878611Since then, I’ve gravitated toward contemporary fiction with a dash of the extraordinary rather than straight-up science fiction or fantasy. Both of Karen Russell’s short story collections—and even her Pulitzer-nominated novel Swamplandia! to an extent—were dynamite. To this day, I’m not sure whether it was the adept writing or the crazy plot details (an adults-only indoor blizzard; presidents reincarnated as horses) that left me agape. Also, it probably goes without saying that George Saunders’ Tenth of December with its own forays into the impossible breaks the mold.

Until two months ago, I continued to describe these wonkily wonderful stories as “like magical realism” or “amazing, really bizarre literature.” Then I came across this Wall Street Journal article on Kelly Link’s latest work and the burgeoning category of “slipstream fiction.” According to the piece, the term was first coined in the ’80s to describe stories that slip in and out of reality while being more grounded than a true fantasy.

Are you familiar with slipstream fiction, a.k.a the “New Weird?” Genre bending could offer writers more creative latitude, and I personally prefer realism (and reality) to be a little bizarre, at least every now and then.

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