Modern fairy tales, American magical realism, a trend?
May 21, 2003 11:58 AM   Subscribe

Amy Bender writes modern fairy tales. Whether these stories are magical realism, irrealism, or just plain crazy, is this a continuing trend in fiction?
posted by son_of_minya (19 comments total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Previous thread about Brothers Grimm.

Previous thread about Jim Munroe, whose "zany" fiction may also be a part of this trend, if it does exist.

Previous thread about Kilgore Trout.

It's just a suspicion, but I think that with the current political situation, fantastical, symbolic, non-literal fiction is going to grow in popularity.
posted by son_of_minya at 12:01 PM on May 21, 2003

there are a few other writers who re-tell fairy tales (most notably kelly link, whose stranger things happen included retellings of "orpheus" and "twelve dancing princesses", as well as some fantastical original stories), and some semi-important analysis of the brothers grimm et al has been released in the past few months. speaking as someone who makes films that claim mythology (self-link) as a source, i think going back to the roots of storytelling is important so that we can measure ourselves against our ancestors.
posted by pxe2000 at 12:44 PM on May 21, 2003

I like this. Thanks.

More magical realism.
posted by Shane at 12:46 PM on May 21, 2003

I don't really understand this post. What do John Lennon, William Burroughs, and Kurt Vonnegut have to do with each other or with fairy tales, other than none of them are kitchen-sink realism? Why not link Cervantes and Sterne and Andrei Bely and the Odyssey and Hugo Gernsback and Voltaire and the Thousand and One Nights and Gilgamesh and about 10,000 other writers/myths? If your question is "Is there always an alternative to kitchen-sink realism?" the answer is yes. *shrugs*

By the way, it's Aimee, not "Amy."
posted by languagehat at 12:52 PM on May 21, 2003

Why not link Cervantes and Sterne and Andrei Bely and the Odyssey and Hugo Gernsback and Voltaire and the Thousand and One Nights and Gilgamesh and about 10,000 other writers/myths?

Cervantes Andrei Bely Gilgamesh 1,001 Nights The Odyssey 10,000 other writers...

What? No Ellison?

posted by Shane at 1:06 PM on May 21, 2003

Keep in mind too that Aimee Bender comes from the UC Irvine MFA crowd, which includes Richard Ford, Michael Chabon, Alice Sebold and Glen David Gold. I've noticed that all of their work involves very precise stylistics that transform everyday affairs into gargantuan drama. It's one of the things that impressed me most about Ford's The Sportswriter, which demonstrated that a writer can write about the exploits of a complacent yuppie thirtysomething and still come across as fantastically descriptive (e.g., "a toe-tapping Terre Haute"). While the narrative itself did not come across as particularly magical (more typical than anything else), the langauge outdid itself.

I don't think that Bender or her compatriots are necessarily trying to overcompensate for a lack of personal experience or topics. While there are numerous issues within American culture to write about, it is quite possible that today's fiction markets favor the kind of safe suburban environments and behavior with which similarly situated readers are likely to relate to. Kudos to Bender & Co. for throwing an absurdist spin on the banalities. Passively environed readers need to get the wind knocked out of them from time to time.
posted by ed at 1:11 PM on May 21, 2003

Neil Gaiman also writes modern fairy tales such as the excellent Stardust. Also, his award-winning Sandman comics could be considered (more than anything else) modern fairy tales/modern mythology.
posted by CrunchyFrog at 1:30 PM on May 21, 2003

Warning, self link -> my incomplete list of magical realist authors
posted by danec at 1:35 PM on May 21, 2003

CrunchyFrog - did you know Endless Nights (a collection about each of the Endless in Sandman) is coming out in September? Cannot wait!
posted by widdershins at 1:53 PM on May 21, 2003

Then there's The Life of Pi.
posted by kozad at 2:07 PM on May 21, 2003

I agree w/ what LanguageHat said - alternatives to realism have existed for a long time and will no doubt continue for a long time.

I just finished Bender's Invisible Sign of My Own - it's ok, not as good as her short stories, IMO, but not bad either.

My favorite non-realistic writer is Italo Calvino.
posted by drobot at 2:09 PM on May 21, 2003

Languagehat is right. This is nothing new. See the Endicott Studio page as just one place where this kind of literature is discussed. Check out their reading lists for many examples.
posted by gudrun at 4:51 PM on May 21, 2003

Urgh... damn spelling error. It's sad, because I own a copy of her book and have had a section of bookmarks for months now with her name on the folder.

Why Burroughs, Lennon, and Kilgor Trout? They just all fit into a sub-genre of pure nonsense writing, which balances out the fairy tales. It's all non-literal, with American magical realism falling somewhere between the two in spirit.

Was looking for "The Falling Girl" by Dino Buzzati, but I wouldn't include any older stuff.

This whole trend was big in MFA programs, from what I've read, a few years ago. Thought maybe it was dying out, but now I'm not so sure.
posted by son_of_minya at 7:58 PM on May 21, 2003

I think the thread is dead. Just one more point, though.


I often ask myself questions like, "What is cyberpunk?"

The answer is usually, "Cyberpunk is an academic definition of a genre, which should have nothing to do with my writing."

I tried to phrase the FPP in a way that presented a vague outline of a style, not of an academic concept of literature. Maybe I failed in communicating that, because my message wasn't clear to you; but I do think all of the links presented good reading material, which is what really matters to readers.

I feel the same way about philosophy and rap music. When rappers address "the industry," or academics address other academics, it doesn't interest me. I find it more interesting when the listener/reader is addressed directly.

And that is what Aimee Bender does well -- connecting related themes in a way that does not seem contrived.

Also, come to think of it, the prose poetry of Charles Baudelaire is something I would have included here. Wish I had links, but I have a feeling most people here have read this already.
posted by son_of_minya at 1:54 AM on May 22, 2003

I do think all of the links presented good reading material, which is what really matters to readers.

Yeah, but it's not all that matters to MetaFilter. I don't want to sound like an asshat, but it does seem to me that you could have replaced all the names/links in your post with any other half-dozen randomly selected from a huge pool of writers/styles you like that form a grouping in your mind and aren't in some sense "realistic" and it would have been the same post, which (according to my sense of the guidelines) makes it a bad post. But don't mind me, I'm just another guy with an opinion, and you know what they say about opinions.
posted by languagehat at 8:13 AM on May 22, 2003

It also might be useful to check out Aimee Bender's own website.
posted by drobot at 8:29 AM on May 22, 2003

Wow. It's been a long time since I actually found a writer that held my interest. This stuff is gold!
posted by oissubke at 12:13 PM on May 22, 2003

Warning, self link -> my incomplete list of magical realist authors

BTW: Excellent site, Danec.
posted by oissubke at 12:16 PM on May 22, 2003

Wow, that is a good site, danec -- thanks for calling my attention to it, oissubke! I had been trying to remember the name of Bernardo Atxaga so I could mention him in this thread, and there he is with his own section (I highly recommend Obabakoak). Isaac Babel seems like a stretch, but it's good to cast the net wide. Well done.
posted by languagehat at 1:35 PM on May 22, 2003

« Older Crystal Clear Channel Surfing   |   Steal These Buttons Newer »

This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments