Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Labels, labels, labels...

Just when I think I've read the best story in the Beat to a Pulp anthology, I go and read another one that wows me more than the last.  This morning I read Charles Ardai's story "A Free Man."  It's especially meaningful to me since last night I actually had a dream where I was questioning what the hell I had done with my life thus far (the early revs of a midlife crisis, I believe).  Ardai captures this fear very well and seems to understand how it is even more devastating to a blue collar guy.  There are plenty of noir writers I could compare Ardai to, but I find it interesting that the writer I really thought of while reading "A Free Man" was the campus-revered Raymond Carver.  By extension, I thought a bit of Charles Bukowski.

Now, we all go through a Bukowski phase.  Usually in our twenties, when we still think life is unfair and the world is stacked against us (as we grow older, we realize it's true and accept it...)  I recently wrote a paper on Bukowski and Carver, however, in effort to determine whether or not they should be considered in the same literary category.  My conclusion was that Carver was a bit too middle-class to be thought of in the same arena as Bukowski who, while sometimes exaggerated, wrote about being poor from a very personal, first-hand experience.  This paper was written for a class I took on contemporary literature.  The scope was postmodernism and beyond.  We read Marquez in the beginning (which I fucking loved) and then we read Junot Diaz at the end of the class.  Marquez is, of course, considered 'magical realism.'  Bukowski and Carver are, of course, considered 'dirty realism.'  I wondered, as I took the class, and now, if these labels make any sense at all.

Isn't "magical realism" just "fantasy" with a label that's acceptable to the snooty "literary" writers from the university?  Isn't "dirty realism" just "noir" for the stuck-up?  I believe these labels need to go!  Here is my proposal:

If it's straight realism with no fantastic elements (i.e., Carver, most of Bukowski's stuff,) then how about we call it "Realistic Fiction"?

If it's entertaining and has elements of the fantastic, be they horror, science fiction, fantasy, surrealism, whatever, how about we call it "Fantastic Fiction"?

Problem solved!


  1. That Ardai story slayed me. There are several in that collection ("A Native Problem" by Chris F. Holm, "Maker's and Coke" by Jake Hinkson, and that Sci-fi piece by Kieran Shea, "Hard Bite" by Anonymous 9) that are pitch perfect--not a word out of place.

    I definitely get the allusion to Carver. Though I think I've only read three of his stories, so perhaps I'm not qualified to say that!

  2. I think I've read most of the stories you mentioned.

    I dig Carver, but you basically only need to read a few stories from the few different phases of his career to get the gist. Drinking and marital problems were at the core. His last collection, Cathedral, he seemd to abandon the minimalism of his earlier years. I actually think I prefer the minimalism, though.

  3. Update--

    Since writing that last comment, I have changed my mind about Raymond Carver. I am working on the complete collection of stories right now and the majority of the stories are incredible.

    All Due Respect, Mr. Carver (R.I.P.)