Delia Sherman & Theodora Goss, editors,
Interfictions: An Anthology of Interstitial Writing
(Small Beer, 2007)

Interfictions, the title of a new anthology edited by Delia Sherman and Theodora Goss, might also stand as a convenient label for the type of fiction presented. Goss and Sherman call it "interstitial fiction" (a somewhat stilted sobriquet, in my opinion), the premise being that the stories exist outside the bounds of any particular genre.

The stories themselves are generally superb -- from the first, Christopher Barzak's subliminally scary "What We Know About the Lost Families of ----- House," to the last, Catherynne M. Valente's poetic but distanced "A Dirge for Prester John" -- to the extent that most of the works presented could be noted as stand-outs. One searches, however, for commonalities (besides an imprecise and apparently unwilling definition, that is). There are some.

The somewhat distanced, dispassionate voice noted in Valente's offering is shared in some form by many of the stories, most notably Karen Jordan Allen's "Alternative Anxieties," an acerbic comment on the way too many of us magnify trivia, to Matthew Cheney's "A Map of Everywhere," in which it takes on the tone of a travelogue narrator relating a picaresque "biography" that becomes a charming love story. This diction seems to be a product of a "twice-told tales" approach: many of these stories make use of the classic mode of the fairy or folk tale without quite moving into that territory. (See Michael J. DeLuca's "The Utter Proximity of God" for one that almost makes the transition.)

Surrealism -- or perhaps I should call it "surreality" -- of one sort or another is also an element that permeates this collection. It seems sometimes to be a matter of style more than substance, seemingly mismatched images veering close to word salad (and also close to preciosity), but never quite going over the edge. More interesting are those in which the surreal quality is foundational, such as Leslie What's amazing and completely engaging "Post Hoc," in which a pregnant woman, trying to mail herself to her lover, winds up living in the post office. Goss, in the "Afterword" (which is really a dual interview) distinguishes between influences of the intrinsic surreality of much Latin-American fiction in the magical realist vein and the more formal surrealism of the purely European tradition, to which I can only response with Gertrude Stein's immortal comment about roses.

The stories are, in fact, framed within a border of critical theory, overtly so in Hein Insel Finkl's introduction, and by assumption in the afterword. I have no particular objection to this, and in fact find it quite helpful, particularly since I've undertaken to comment on the anthology. Finkl's essay, in fact, makes the claim that an interstitial work will create a "historical trajectory" -- invent its own ancestry, so to speak -- although I suspect that's more to do with the human need to organize than anything intrinsic to the works themselves. I found many of Fenkl's observations helpful, although I have reservations to some of his assertions, particularly those concerning "genre" as a concept -- it does have validity outside marketing concerns. I do find it somewhat ironic that a form of literature that purports to exist outside boundaries comes with its own critical hardware already in place. This strikes me as analogous to slipstream fiction, also much concerned with defining itself after nearly 20 years, and I wonder if the two are not in many respects -- or even entirely -- fungible.

At any rate, my recommendation is simply to get your hands on the book, read the stories first, enjoy them -- they will amply reward any time you spend -- and read the critical justifications last.

review by
Robert M. Tilendis

28 July 2007

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