Tag: realistic fiction

Short story: “Our Side of the Door”

“Our Side of the Door,” by Kodiak Julian

Appeared in Lightspeed MagazineMay 2018 (Issue 96)

3,240 words

Another story that could be classified as realistic fiction just as easily as fantasy (last one here). I admire the way the literary plot unfolds, the ambiguity of the boy’s supposed journey.



Short story or perhaps fictional essay: “A Place Without Portals”

“A Place Without Portals,” by Adam-Troy Castro

Appeared in Lightspeed Magazine, April 2018 (issue 95); read or listen to the podcast here

2,160 words according to the magazine

I had no idea where this was going, but the ending was just right.

The essay/story could be taken as realistic fiction just as easily as fantasy.

On accommodating reality correctly

“I’m standing here in front of this 1920s bungalow in LA. If you just describe the physicality of the place, you’re only getting a fraction of the truth, which is that if you went back to 1946 there was some dude standing here in a fedora who’s now dead. That’s as true as the fact that there’s a lawn chair sitting here in front of me. To give a story broader shoulders, you have to sometimes push off into the supernatural or the sci-fi, not as a way of avoiding reality, but of accommodating it correctly.”

—George Saunders (x)

On the tastes of the editorial staff of The Paris Review


What trends in recent poetry and fiction do you find yourselves rejecting, not just as editors, but also as readers? In the recent Refinery29 story, Lorin [Stein] says, “I would describe my look as ‘realistic.’ Low on whimsy. Low on flash. It may be coincidence, but that describes my taste in fiction and poetry, too.” Is that true for the rest of you?


“I personally dislike speculative fiction, alternate realities, and so forth.” —Sadie [Stein, deputy editor]

“Suburban malaise.” —Justin [Alvarez, digital director]

“I kind of like suburban malaise, but I wish I’d said my look was Adlai Stevenson.” —Lorin

“Oh, I also hate the obvious specter of childhood sexual abuse hanging over domestic stories.” —Sadie

“I’ll pass.” —Clare [Fentress, assistant editor]

“Oh, and I hate magical-realist food fiction.” —Sadie

“Actually, I hate bored narrators. You can say that about me.” —Clare


On David Foster Wallace’s anti-irony

“Are his harangues against the tyranny of irony meant to be taken in earnest, or are they artfully constructed simulacra of what a sincere anti-ironist might sound like? Or both? If one way to escape from the blind alley of postmodern self-consciousness is simply to turn around and walk in another direction—which is […] what a great many very interesting writers, without making a big deal about it, simply do—Wallace prefers to forge ahead in hopes of breaking through to the other side, whatever that may be. For all his impatience with the conventions of anti-realism, he advances a standard postmodern view that ‘the classical Realist form is soothing, familiar and anesthetic; it drops us right into spectation. It doesn’t set up the sort of expectations serious 1990s fiction ought to be setting up in readers.’ Wallace, then, is less anti-ironic than (forgive me) meta-ironic. That is, his gambit is to turn irony back on itself, to make his fiction relentlessly conscious of its own self-consciousness, and thus to produce work that will be at once unassailably sophisticated and doggedly down to earth. Janus-faced, he demands to be taken at face value. ‘Single-entendre principles’ is a cleverly tossed off phrase, but Wallace is temperamentally committed to multiplicity—to a quality he has called, with reference to the filmmaker David Lynch, ‘bothness.’ He wants to be at once earnest and ironical, sensitive and cerebral, lisible and scriptible, R&D and R&R, straight man and clown, grifter and mark.”

—A. O. Scott (x)

Well, yes! Like I keep saying about irony and sincerity: why not both? Why not both?

That said, I read Infinite Jest when I was already getting deep in a self-reinforcing pattern of self-conscious and almost solipsistic thinking. I think I understand the trouble Wallace got himself in by forging ahead.

Short story: “When Responding to a Craigslist Ad Looking for a Nude Housekeeper”

“When Responding to a Craigslist Ad Looking for a Nude Housekeeper,” by Bo Fisher

Appeared on Monkeybicycle, September 18th, 2015

1,230 words

This started making my skin crawl around the halfway point. The ending comes as a relief, despite or because of the violence.

It’s a cliché ending, and maybe too easy—a way to cut short a painfully familiar, believable scenario that isn’t really going anywhere. But I have to admit I prefer the easy ending.

Short story: “The Horses of Sanlùcar”

“The Horses of Sanlùcar,” by Richard Farrell

Appeared in the spring 2015 issue of Contrary Magazine

4,036 words

I like how believable it is that this very passive character, after months of threatening to leave, is set off by such a brief glimpse of horror and death.

Short story: “Dole Girl”

“Dole Girl,” by Barbara Hamby

Winner of the 2015 Aura Estrada Short Story Contest; appeared in volume 40, number 4 of Boston Review, July/August 2015

4,319 words

Not a bad story, but I guess I was expecting something more insightful or complex. Kind of reads like a memoir. The main character’s problem is resolved by the passage of time; she learns a few obvious things. Nothing really ties it all together, it’s just a window into an important period in her life.

On soaking up clichés

“[P]recisely because [nineteenth-century writer Adotya Panaeva] was inexperienced, not steeped in the naturalistic writing so trendy at the time, she tells her story in original ways, avoiding the cliches she hadn’t soaked up like everyone else.”

—Steve Dodson (Language Hat), whose translated excerpt of her novel is well worth reading (x)

There’s a certain much-mocked type of amateur writer who claims he never reads, because he doesn’t want anyone to influence his precious originality. The retort is obvious: If you don’t love reading, why are you writing? If you’re not willing to develop good taste, to observe common conventions, and to learn techniques from other writers, how can you hope to write well? But as Dodson points out, there’s some validity to the naive approach.

The ideal balance, to my mind, is to read widely and critically, maintaining awareness of clichés and conventions, refusing to be intimidated by all the great writing that has come before you, and cultivating your ability to speak from the heart without inhibition. But that takes intelligence and chutzpah, as well as hard work. I wonder if some writers, especially autobiographical ones, wouldn’t be better off with Panaeva’s approach.

On dialogue and failure to communicate

“It can be tempting when writing realist dialogue to carry out the assumption that when two people are speaking, they are speaking to each other. Like checkered tiles in a kitchen, this kind of dialogue is a pattern that the reader has seen before, many times: a pattern they can recognize without looking closely, and so barely see. […]

“But in reality, nobody ever talks to anyone else. What speech actually achieves is a communication between one person and that person’s idea of the other. Most of the time there is no difference, no discernible difference, between such verisimilitude and the truth. But the best dialogue will manifest this disparity in subtle, slender ways. It will show how, in speaking, we fail to speak.”

—Samsun Knight (x)