The Republic of Wine

51v31QsIhrLMany novels slalom between reality, or at least a fictional reality, and fiction. Characters step out of the fiction to be a part of the reality and real personages are sucked into the fiction. Add to this the somewhat clichéd tactic of having one of the characters writing in the fictional reality when they are also a part of the fiction and their writing becomes the real fiction of the novel. But in some novels there is room for the real to leak into the fiction and the fictional to leak into the real, the fictional real, that is.

Take Mo Yan’s excellent novel, The Republic of Wine. The story starts with an investigation into rumors that babies are being eaten at banquets in Liquorland. But then a young liquor scholar is writing stories which he sends to the well-known author Mo Yan for critical evaluation and possible publication. So the story writer sends the story to a real-life person and then the story is inserted into the overall narrative: but the story is about Liquorland and it’s inhabitants and the possible eating of babies. Just to add another layer, characters in the stories themselves tell stories and all the stories assume an aspect of the fictional reality … and then it gets even more intertwined.

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William H. Gass coined the term “metafiction” in a 1970 essay entitled “Philosophy and the Form of Fiction.” Some of us that are more familiar with the works of Raymond Federman might also call it Surfiction. What is metafiction? It is fiction about fiction.

MetafictionSome forms of metafiction in use today are so horribly clichéd that the author often is branded as a hack without further analysis. Do we really need another secret diary found in a mayonnaise jar on the back porch at Funk and Wagnalls? Other forms of metafiction are make your eyes cross and your head hurt. Two of my favorites are At Swim-Two-Birds by Flann O’Brien and Take It or Leave It by Raymond Federman. In At Swim there are several levels of reality that are populated by several layers of characters, sort of a telescoped fiction. In Take It the characters in the novel being written relax in the next room when they’re not in a scene of the fiction and even go AWOL at times when tired of waiting for the author to get to the scenes where they resume their job as fictional characters.

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