Trends after metafiction?
November 22, 2004 3:33 PM   Subscribe

If metafiction is dead, what is the current big literary trend?

If metafiction is not dead and only smells bad, my apologies. However, the question still stands.
posted by swift to Writing & Language (44 answers total)
Pointless crap by Eggers and his cohort? /obvious

Really, it's probably too soon to say & that's most likely good, as trends defined before they sputter tend to lead to bad imitation and limited creativity as everyone jumps on the wordwagon.
posted by dame at 3:43 PM on November 22, 2004

Maybe flash.
posted by Shane at 3:44 PM on November 22, 2004

In fact, what dame said is true of trends generally.
posted by kenko at 3:46 PM on November 22, 2004

Isn't non-fiction the current literary trend?
posted by Keith Talent at 3:56 PM on November 22, 2004

posted by Wolof at 3:57 PM on November 22, 2004

posted by Robot Johnny at 4:03 PM on November 22, 2004

You can't really identify a trend until it's ready to go to Hollywood and die.
posted by jfuller at 4:07 PM on November 22, 2004

posted by equipoise at 4:19 PM on November 22, 2004

Harry Potter
posted by seanyboy at 4:21 PM on November 22, 2004

i'd say chicklit is enormous, and then there's sorta-magical/alchemical/alt-history, mixed with sorta-magical realism stuff, like the Baroque trilogy, and Life of Pi, and Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norell, and Philip Roth's newest--even DaVinci Code might fit in there.
posted by amberglow at 5:07 PM on November 22, 2004

How about "[Ordinary object]: A history"
posted by inksyndicate at 5:36 PM on November 22, 2004

Chicklit is on the way out, alas--once Harlequin/Mills & Boon got into the act with their "Red Dress Ink" imprint, the genre was too diluted to keep at the forefront of the fiction market. Also note huge flopperoo of Helen Fielding's most recent novel (Olivia Joules and the Overstretched Plot Mechanics, or whatever it's called).

Historical fiction is strong, as are alt-histories. Fiction set in India, China, and the developing world hasn't (in my opinion) peaked yet. Non-fiction history continues to do well; memoir is getting a little tighter to sell, though. {And, on preview: what inksyndicate said, although I think that it's too late to get on that bandwagon if you haven't written your history of whatever-it-is already.}

Books about diets, cats, chocolate, the US Civil War, golf, and Hitler will continue to do well until the heat-death of the universe. Nobody can explain it.
posted by Sidhedevil at 5:38 PM on November 22, 2004

Fiction involving Henry James.
posted by Jongo at 5:46 PM on November 22, 2004

Pointless crap by Eggers and his cohort? /obvious

Just to be annoying, that is metafiction.

I'm seeing a return to (for lack of a better term) modern fiction. More emphasis on narrative form, denser language, a sense of history, etc. Michael Chabon and Jim Shepard (Shepard has some wonderful short stories based loosely on real-life happenings) spring to mind. T.C. Boyle has had some strong stuff lately (though he can veer back to meta as well). Chuck Palahniuk's more recent work is a bit less irony-filled (Fight Club) and more tinged with a bit of that magic-realism (Diary) amberglow notes above.

But who knows - a lot of this stuff isn't clear until a bit of time has passed.
posted by jalexei at 5:47 PM on November 22, 2004

Response by poster: Thanks all. Of course I don't expect anyone here to correctly identify the next big thing. Just curious what seems to be on the rise.
posted by swift at 5:54 PM on November 22, 2004

Just to be annoying, that is metafiction.

Some, not all. See: Julavits, Vida, what I've seen of Elliot.
posted by dame at 6:21 PM on November 22, 2004

Oops, I left this off: Patronizing, ass monkey.
posted by dame at 6:22 PM on November 22, 2004

Dirty Limericks.
posted by jonmc at 6:22 PM on November 22, 2004

Bad comma. Bad.
posted by dame at 6:22 PM on November 22, 2004

Well, that settles it. I'm writing The Cat Who Golfed with General Ulysses S. Hitler's Choctastic Diet.
posted by Optimus Chyme at 6:27 PM on November 22, 2004

Some, not all. See: Julavits, Vida, what I've seen of Elliot.

Yep - I was addressing Eggers/Moody specifically (whom I have to admit I enjoy, at least A Heartbreaking Work... before the schtick got too worn).
posted by jalexei at 6:45 PM on November 22, 2004

Yeah, well fewer than half the stories in the new book of Eggers's stories qualify. (I have to admit I thought he was an attention-seeking hack from the first.)
posted by dame at 6:56 PM on November 22, 2004

Just to add to the chours: self-concious fiction is most definetly on the wane. Point in case- the raise of "graphic novels as literature." Neil Gaiman (a genre author for heavens sake!) is being discussed in the same breath as the best of the American literati. People want a good story. Narrative is really the most important device now. Jonathan Franzen won the NBA for The Corrections and with that uncomfortable blending of the sentimental Oprah set and the snooty literary set, modern fiction turned back to the story. Look at the last few winners of the the Pulitzer: The Known World, Middlesex, Empire Falls, The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay. They're all personal, reader-friendly, emotional stories. Just a couple years before that, more experimental stuff, like The Hours, took the prize.

And I, for one, am not ready to pronounce memoir-as-lit dead yet. It's declining, sure, but the best of Burroughs and Sedaris comes mighty close to the best of anything coming out of the 'traditional' lit group.

And, yea, Eggers is, and always has been, a hack. The rest of the McSweeny's/Believer crowd ain't much better.
posted by MostHolyPorcine at 7:14 PM on November 22, 2004

Ha! I disliked McSweeney's before it was hip!

For a while they had a real Lisa Pea thing going on, though.
posted by kenko at 7:23 PM on November 22, 2004

Genre fiction. It's being done big, now somebody just needs to do it well.
posted by robocop is bleeding at 7:39 PM on November 22, 2004

Robocop is bleeding is right. Both with his answer, and his assessment.
posted by .kobayashi. at 7:43 PM on November 22, 2004

It looks to me like speculative fiction (which contains such subcategories as not only science fiction and fantasy but also magical realism and various cross-genre chimeras) is making a move to become dominant. Finally.
posted by rushmc at 7:47 PM on November 22, 2004

Response by poster: I hear a lot about magical realism lately, mostly in connection with Chicano writing. Wish I knew more about it.

I guess everything goes back to Don Quixote, for my money the only really non-genre novel in history, except for maybe Gulliver's Travels.
posted by swift at 8:12 PM on November 22, 2004

Don't sell Tristram Shandy short. That is some awesome shit.

Wasn't magical realism's bit of the spotlight in the 80s and 90s? I dunno, the most recent magical realist novel I have is from 98 (not that I'm on the literary forefront or anything).
posted by kenko at 9:32 PM on November 22, 2004

Isn't Don Quixote considered the first novel?

While not a novel, the movie What the *bleep* is it all about is a good example of the pseduo-science/mystical/religious stuff along the same lines as DaVinci Code .. targeted at the Baby Boomer crowd as they move in to old age and become wise old mystical sages, the bearded and wrinked version of a hippy. Sells a lot and seems new and important but not really cutting edge.

Cutting edge will be stories about heroes. Not anti-heroes, not cynical heroes, not dark avengers, but the real life to goodness heroes like existed in the 1930s that everyone can get behind and support. "Incredibles" is a good example of where things are headed. "Team America" and other cynical stuff is burning out.
posted by stbalbach at 10:02 PM on November 22, 2004

Isn't Don Quixote considered the first novel?

I believe it's considered the first European novel. Most people call Murasaki Shikibu's The Tale of Genji the first real novel. It's difficult to know where to start calling something a novel. In Asia, there were tons of romances before Genji, but none of them were psychological in the way that Genji is. Anyways, it's a fantastic, suprisingly readable book that eveyone should tackle.
posted by MostHolyPorcine at 10:54 PM on November 22, 2004

anyway, it's a fantastic, surprisingly readable book that everyone should tackle.

Isn't that an oxymoron?

Next big thing? Historical fiction is probably the most likely contender, the popularity of the O'Brien books seems to have caused a rise in the amount of sea-faring action novels. Also, Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norell, Da Vinci and it's ilk are being snapped up by Hollywood. So it's probably over before it has begun.
posted by Navek Rednam at 12:45 AM on November 23, 2004

Historical fiction has been "the next big thing" for the last {x} years (where x is a number between 2 and 15), and I suspect that this current incarnation on its last legs. Expect a few more movie tie ins, but the written stuff will start to settle back to default levels over the next year or so.

I agree with whoever said "biography", but I've a suspicion that this also may be a current big thing.

My feeling is that trends in literature cannot be forecast, but are dependent on a successful book spawning a trend. chick-lit owes a lot to Helen Fielding; Aga Saga's owe everything to Trollope.

I'm suprised that Harry Potter hasn't managed to spawn more imitators, but this may be because the ones which have been spawned are obviously imitations.

I'd hedge my bets on something magical / supernatural though. After LOTR, Fantasy may be a bit tired (and the market is saturated), so my money is on Horror, albeit horror with a more magical twist.
posted by seanyboy at 5:12 AM on November 23, 2004

considered the first European novel
History of the novel
posted by seanyboy at 5:19 AM on November 23, 2004

I kinda think graphic novels are going to be the next big literary thing. They have been for me, largely because no othrer genre is putting out stuff that's quite as good. They're moving from comic book stores to regular book stores, and slowly they'll become un-marginalized, and yuppies will start buying them in droves ... and... I'll have to stop. Fuck!
posted by Hildago at 7:24 AM on November 23, 2004

I think there's a difference between what Swift asked - what's the next literary trend (i.e. metafiction) - and what a lot of folks are answering. Sure, horror, biography, graphic novels, spec fiction, etc. might be the next big genre, but those aren't really literary trends in the way that metafiction was/is - you could write a metafictional horror novel, graphic novel, chick lit, etc. Same with magical realism - you could write a horror or science fiction novel that includes magical realism.

I think what a few people said above is true - that you can't really identify a trend until it's over. I think contemporary literary writing has been somewhat trend free for a few years - maybe the ironic eggers stuff was something, but the backlash against him/them is so strong, and his popularity was so short lived, I'd say maybe that was more of a flash in the pan than a movement. So maybe the prevailing trend is that there is no prevailing trend - at least not in the way that experimental writing dominated the literary scene for a while in the seventies (Barth, Coover, Barthelme) or minimalist realism dominated the eighties (Carver, Beattie.) Right now, it seems that anything goes, or can go. But that's literary writing - I think there's always been a division between what's selling well and what's popular with university students -- it seems that maybe that line is starting to blur somewhat, though. Maybe that's a trend to watch out for - seeing genre and 'literary' writing blend a la Jonathon Lethem. I really think what somebody said above is probably true - people want to read good stories.
posted by drobot at 8:40 AM on November 23, 2004

Sure, horror, biography, graphic novels, spec fiction, etc. might be the next big genre, but those aren't really literary trends in the way that metafiction was/is

Except that I wasn't saying something like "science fiction is going to start selling really well," but rather that LiFi was going to adopt techniques and topics from speculative (and thus become subsumed by it).

Maybe that's a trend to watch out for - seeing genre and 'literary' writing blend a la Jonathon Lethem.

Yes, THAT'S what I'm saying.
posted by rushmc at 9:05 AM on November 23, 2004

sorry, but what's genre fiction? does that mean, broadly, fiction that's shelved under labels other than just "fiction" (like historical, crime etc)?
[on preview, ah, i think that's right]
posted by andrew cooke at 9:15 AM on November 23, 2004

Lethem's one of the good examples of genre done well (As She Climbed Across The Table is one of my A++ Will Read Again faves). His most genrefic work, Gun, With Occasional Music, is also one of his best, blending the noir and SciFi genres in a way that would make Dick jealous.

Stephenson is also someone to watch, once he gets a decent editor. Until then, his ideas will be lost in books that look like they should be bought by the pound.

As a reaction to authors playing with genre conventions, I also think we're going to see a return to the conventional genre. There is something valid and good involved with an author writing a good story within the confines of genre. Like a sonnet, almost, but also like a stripped down rock song. Saddly, most of this stuff will be lost on literary readers who can't be bothered to wander away from the Fiction/Classics section of their local Borders.
posted by robocop is bleeding at 10:13 AM on November 23, 2004

I'm seeing creative nonfiction mentioned a lot within my surroundings.
posted by booth at 10:14 AM on November 23, 2004

Ask MetaFiction.

(I'd throw my weight behind those saying that magical-realism flavoured work is the next big thing, although maybe that's just wishful thinking. I think there's a few trends in this direction; one towards Strange/Norrell-ish epic fictions, another towards a somewhat absurdist magical realism. The second of these allows for some of the knowingness of recent metafiction, but with more good storytelling and less preciousness. Plots and stuff. That's what we want.

I still like the McSweeneys lot. Mostly. They helped put the fun back into literature, which has to be a good thing. And with Chabon's Thrilling Tales stuff, they seem to have acknowledged that it's getting a bit boring and it might be nice to just write stories for a while.)
posted by flashboy at 10:58 AM on November 23, 2004

RushMC - Yeah, I think we agree.

Andrew - Hard to say. I think a large part of it is how a bookstore labels a book, but then its pretty easy to identify something when it fits the genre - a 'classic' example of a mystery is pretty easy to ID. I think it's harder to define what makes something literary - when it lasts? I'm not sure I know.

I think there are a ton of writers, science fiction especially who are writing or wrote 'literary' scif- - Dick, Samuel Delaney, J.G. Ballard, Octavia Butler, Le Guin, Stanislaw Lem, etc. The crime genre, too, has a ton of examples that would qualify as literature - James Cain and Dashiell Hammett, for example, or some of Graham Greene's books.

Flashboy (and others) - Don't you think Magical Realism has already come around (and maybe gone?) as a 'literary trend'? I think of writers like Jose Saramago and Jeanette Winterson have sold tons of books. Aimee Bender and George Saunders, too - at least among literary writers, are heavyweights. Not sure how their books do, though. And Marquez's Hundred Years of Solitude was published in 1967, and it's still widely read - heck, it's an oprah book! I think outside the US, especially Latin American cultures, magical realism seems to be the status quo, or at least was for a while.

Anyway, my point is that I think it's hard to predict what the next big thing will be until it happens. So much of what's published now recalls past trends.
posted by drobot at 11:23 AM on November 23, 2004 [1 favorite]

The big thing going on right now is, I think, that there is no big thing going on. There isn't one single major trend that all authors are measured against whether they like it or not (are you political enough? are you modernist enough?); there are several trends going on simultaneously (feminism, crime, manga...). And here's my point: this is not a problem, this doesn't mean that we're living in a weak or uninteresting literary age. This is what a healthy literary climate is should be like. And it's is something we might miss once it is gone.

Looking backwards, it seems like every decade in the 20th century had its own ism. We've come to expect that this is the natural state of literature. When there isn't a new literary generation every decade, with a new agenda, a new ism, we begin to worry. But the future of literature might be very different.
posted by Termite at 12:14 PM on November 23, 2004

And here's my point: this is not a problem, this doesn't mean that we're living in a weak or uninteresting literary age. This is what a healthy literary climate is should be like.

I agree with that too. So far as literature is concerned, this (the idea, not that we yet embody it as fully as we may someday or should) is the best of all possible worlds. Labels are for marketers, not for readers...and CERTAINLY not for writers.
posted by rushmc at 2:51 PM on November 23, 2004

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