essay #7

Experimental fiction
 
ON EXPERIMENTAL FICTION
 
The below columns are meant to be read individually as separate pieces then together as one whole piece, ignoring the column break:
 
An American Nude2
 
          In 2004 when I was living in Lake Worth, Fla., and reading Moby Dick in a sweltering apartment and listening to Belle and Sebastian and Jack Johnson a lot, I had this notion that literature could be as layered as music—in a more overt way than it already was. I wanted to set two stories side-by-side with only a slender column break between them. Each would be whole and complete in itself and, when reread as one, ignoring the break, a third story would emerge that would be both its own story and a commentary on the first two. Perhaps these are the kinds of visions you have when you are twenty-one and losing body weight by the pounds/hour in the form of sweat and replacing that perspiration with cheap beer. A sort of romantic delirium.
          Nonetheless, I set out to execute my vision: for the idea to be anything more than a gimmick, I felt it should be at least 150,000 words. An epic. And eventually, at the end, the two columns would split to three, then four. And of course the subject matter would have to justify the inherent fractured nature of the aesthetic and the disjointedness of the telling.
          I never came close to that goal. What you see above is more of a cursory attempt to see how difficult it would be to try to do the thing at all. I think it could be done. Just not by me. Maybe someone else will take it up. Though I’m not sure it’d be worth the effort.
          For my part, I got back to basics with short stories and working on a good old fashioned novel. Trying to tell a straight story without technical gymnastics is hard enough, I think. Moreover, the best stories are layered. Fiction is already in a fine shape.
 
– Thomas McCafferty
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