The following five works have redefined the parameters of literary fiction, borrowing the lenses of disparate genres to evaluate and illuminate the human condition. All this while sidestepping the stamp of genre-fiction.
1. Jonathon Lethem’s Motherless Brooklyn
Lethem’s lauded Motherless Brooklyn imbues classic noir fodder with the kind of rich introspection one might expect from Joyce-ian literary fiction that hinges on a character’s epiphany. In this case, our protagonist is an amateur detective prone to Tourette’s outbursts, trying to understand the death of the small time gangster who adopted him when he was young orphan in Brooklyn.
2. Italo Calvino’s Cosmicomics
Each narrative in this collection is built around a scientific principle. In “Distance to the Moon” Calvino imagines an earlier time when the moon orbited close enough to the Earth that citizens could prop a ladder against its pocked surface and climb up to collect the strange cheese fermenting in its crusty craters. Straying from traditional sci-fi fare, this lyrical story is propelled by a central image and hinges on its investigation of unrequited love.
3. John Cheever’s “The Enormous Radio”
A couple learns the behemoth radio they’ve purchased can receive the domestic disputes of the surrounding apartments. Cheever’s 1947 story uses a fantastical object to perturb an otherwise realist tale detailing the pitfalls of domesticity.
4. Ray Bradbury’s Martian Chronicles
In this collection of linked stories, Bradbury uses the language and landscape of science fiction to probe the human condition in a way that few other giants of the genre have.
5. Julio Cortazar’s Blow up and Other Stories
The chain-smoking great uncle of magical realism sets fire to the terrain of traditional fiction in this collection. In “Letter to a Young Lady in Paris,” Cortazar melds hallmarks of Victorian literature with the surreal in a narrative that finds his protagonist uncontrollably retching bunny rabbits all over his friend’s apartment.
Jason Thayer is a first-year MFA fiction student at the University of New Mexico with a penchant for recording bleak and unusual hip hop albums in his spare time.