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.

Some 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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Winter Reading

Tin House 54Yes, it’s Issue #54 of Tin House, subtitled Winter Reading. Journals like Tin House are special because they only come a few times a year (Tin House four; Conjunctions two) and I inevitably sneak mine into my bedtime reading stack to catch up on recent writing and also on the state of good creative fiction and poetry in the dark ages of Harry Potter and Stephen King.

The publisher provides a good overview of the contents of this issue of Tin House:

Enjoy Tin House #54. Find an excuse to devote a day to it and give it your complete attention. Feel the pain and strain with Benjamin Percy as he journeys through a month-long liver detox. Revel in the words of William Gass. Share Helen Phillips’s vision of a world where you can see through others’ skins. Let Mary Ruefle read you to sleep. And be the first to say you know New Voices David Feinstein, Sam Ross, and Eric Burg. Take your time with this one. It’s too dark to go anywhere but into your own ruminations.

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