Synopsis: Nineteen writers dig into the imaginative spaces between conventional genres—realistic and fantastical, scholarly and poetic, personal and political—and bring up gems of new fiction: interstitial fiction. This is the literary mode of the new century, a reflection of the complex, ambiguous, and challenging world that we live in. These nineteen stories, by some of the most interesting and innovative writers working today, will change your mind about what stories can and should do as they explore the imaginative space between conventional genres. The editors garnered stories from new and established authors in the United States, Canada, Australia, and the United Kingdom, and also fiction translated from Spanish, Hungarian, and French. The collection features stories from Christopher Barzak, Colin Greenland, Holly Phillips, Rachel Pollack, Vandana Singh, Anna Tambour, Catherynne Valente, Leslie What, and others.
At Readercon this last July I got both Interfictions: An Anthology of Interstitial Writing and Interfictions 2, collections of short stories that are considered interstitial – not necessarily of one genre or another, but something in between. Strange but not quite speculative; often based in realism but still unreal. They were put out by the Interstitial Arts Foundation (disclaimer: I’m a member and you should be too), and I’ve been working my way through the books. Since it’s just been announced that the anthology series is moving online and will be open to submissions in February, it’s a good time for a review of book one.
I’ll give my quick thoughts on each story and then an overview at the end:
Christopher Barzak, “What We Know About the Lost Families of – House” – Easily my favorite story in the collection. The first person collective voice fits the story perfectly and adds that little bit of a strange, not the same kind of strange as reading a ghost story (which it also has), but the “what kind of story is this” strange that makes it interstitial. Loved it.
Leslie What, “Post Hoc” – This story is adorable, sweet, completely impossibly unrealistic, but just a step over from realism, as if in a next-door universe a pregnant woman could mail herself to the ex who won’t return her phone calls. It’s strange enough that if it had any magic at all it’d be called “magic realism”, but instead of being fantasy-the-genre it just is a fantasy. It’s a dream.
Anna Tambour, “The Shoe in SHOES’ Window” – This take on a Communist commercialism gone to the extreme felt too much like the author was trying to subtly make fun of the characters but ended up clunkily mocking them instead. She created caricatures instead of people, and it was difficult for me to care about the rather thin plot, which was predicated on the narrator’s stupidity and blind devotion to “the cause”.
Joy Marchand, “Pallas at Noon” – Great character study, odd, moving, with just a hint of magical possibility. Left me hoping for the main character’s redemption and return to her younger self.
Jon Singer, “Willow Pattern” – Disjointed but interconnected descriptions of pottery become, as a set, a story – or at least an Idea.
K. Tempest Bradford, “Black Feather” – I could see what the author was going for, a dreamy retelling of a fairy tale bent into a modern relationship, but it lacked something. I needed to see where this story was different from any other retold tale, what made it special, and I didn’t find it. It’s not bad.
Csilla Kleinheincz, “A Drop of Raspberry” (translated from Hungarian) – A love story told from the point of view of a lake. Interesting concept, well told.
Michael DeLuca, “The Utter Proximity of God” – It strains and pushes until it’s almost too big for itself, which I’ve come to expect from DeLuca’s work, but he reigns it in just enough to keep the story moving without losing its undercurrent of grandiose. Read it twice.
Karen Jordan Allen, “Alternate Anxieties” – One part entries in a book, one part stream-of-consciousness writing, the story has a frenetic quality that lends itself well to the subject. I’m not sure if I like it, but I think that’s the point of the story.
Rachel Pollack, “Burning Beard – The Dreams and Visions of Joseph Ben Jacob, Lord Viceroy of Egypt” – I’m not interested in yet another story about a Biblical character. It’s not badly written but it bored me. Also not a big fan of the third-person present tense used. Colorfully, tangibly described objects though.
Veronica Schanoes, “Rats” – It didn’t feel like a story so much as someone shouting at you that you should realize what the story is, as if the idea of it is so obvious (and it is) that the narrator doesn’t understand how you could be stupid enough to want to hear the story anyway. It’s either brilliant or unbearably pretentious, and probably both.
Mikal Trimm, “Climbing Redemption Mountain” – In the author’s note it says the point was to make a “weird variation on Christianity. You don’t see that much these days,” and I have to wonder why Trimm thinks it’s rare, since I see it frequently. That aside, it’s not as deep of a story as “Proximity” and not as richly described as “Burning Beard.” It’s mainly about what’s going on in the main character’s head, but that could be interesting to the right reader.
Colin Greenland, “Timothy” – Straightforward magic realism, maybe. Entertaining and strongly written, the story is as sure of itself as a cat is, and that’s perfect for what this story is about.
Vandana Singh, “Hunger” – One of my favorites. Beautifully written, richly described, and all the talk of food made me hungry. The end felt rushed, a little too neatly wrapped up, but otherwise great.
Matthew Cheney, “A Map of the Everywhere” – Surreal, colorful, takes chances, this is the kind of story I wish the whole collection was full of. Cheney writes as if what he says doesn’t matter, can’t be labeled, probably can’t be understood – and we shouldn’t even try. Just read. That’s all the story wants.
Léa Silhol, “Emblemata” (translated from French) – another exploration of religion, though not Christianity. It’s a travel story, in a way, told in notes like “Alternate Anxieties” but smoother, since the intention isn’t to unsettle you the Allen’s story means to.
Adrián Ferrero, “When It Rains, You’d Better Get Out of Ulga” (translated from Spanish) – More talk of gods, mixed up in water and dying villages. I would have liked more action and less narration, or maybe it was just too short. It felt like it could have been more.
Holly Phillips, “Queen of the Butterfly Kingdom” – Trying to write when your love is gone, and you don’t know when they’re coming back … Oh I know this story. It felt at first as if it would be silly but manages to be, by the end, quite touching. If only we could write our lives back together when they’ve gone to pieces. Of course, the challenge isn’t picturing the life you want, but writing at all, when you’ve lost the person who makes you feel safe enough to write.
Catherynne Valente, “A Dirge for Prester John” – Once again Valente reminds us that she has a glorious ability to take a piece of myth or history and construct a perfect tale around it. I already loved her work, but this shows she’s been quite good for a while now. A very strong piece to end the collection on.
Overall I enjoyed the book quite a bit. I love collections that bring together writers from different countries, stories which weren’t all originally written in English. However … I think that the intention was to create something with more variety but I was surprised that a whole fifth of the book was stories with overtly Christian themes. Other stories evoked different gods, and at least a third were about unhappy, unfulfilled women and their relationships with the men in their lives. Several stories touched on travel and journeys. It felt like there wasn’t as much breadth as there could have been given the wide-open potential of “interstitial”. That doesn’t mean it’s not worth reading. It’s a place to start exploring what can be found between genres, and a first collection is always a beginning.
Standouts for me were Barzak, Kleinheincz, DeLuca, Singh, Cheney, Phillips and Valente. It makes sense that I wouldn’t love everything in the anthology, but there was enough that I definitely recommend it, and even if your taste is different than mine, there’ll be something in there that you’ll enjoy too.