I have always had a passion for literature and postmodernist fiction. My love for reading began when I was 16 and hasn’t stopped since then. At one point, I was devouring as many as four books a week. And, while I cannot remember every book, I carry those words with me. They have become part of me, and with each creative endeavor, I re-express them back into the world.
As much as people will try to insist otherwise, no art is created in a vacuum. Whether books, paintings or sculpture, every work we experience informs the the way we see the world and the works we go on to create ourselves.
In the spirit of sharing, I have put together a list of some of my favorite works of postmodernist fiction:
In his classic work, Love in the Time of Cholera, Márquez writes deeply on the love we carry with us throughout our lives. A woman chooses a suitor who is safe, rather than the one she loves passionately, who passionately loves her. And yet that is the beginning of the book, which takes place over the course of entire lives. A lifetime later, the two lovers reunite, and we see what can remain after so much time.
Love knows no convenience or timing, it simply exists, however beautiful or brutal it presents as. Faithfulness endures, even where others may not see it. The truest love felt never, ever goes away.
With an economy of words, Cormac McCarthy evokes both a tangible sensation of events with a heightened reality with hints of magical realism. In Blood Meridian, the main character, The Kid, experiences the harsh realities of life in the Old West while playing with some dangerous spiritual fire.
I am drawn to the visceral nature of this book. The brutality is tactile. The terror is real. Every action has a reaction, and no one is a hero.
Each story in Dubliners contains an epiphany. The characters discover, for better or worse, something about themselves they hadn’t previously known. Somehow, without ever leaving their city, they all undergo a full prodigal journey. From the way the stories are written, however, we never learn the resolution of the characters’ arcs. We are left to decide for ourselves how each character feels about the consequences of their decisions. They are all left open to interpretation. And each tale is a reminder that we are ever evolving, ever changing.
Even moreso than Lolita, Pale Fire is Nabokov’s game-changing work. A herald of postmodernist fiction, a prelude to hypertext novels, a masterwork of the framing device. It is an obituary, a royal history, and an epic poem all in one space.
So many writers owe their style to this one novel, and I am proudly included. Narrative does not have to be– and often shouldn’t be– written linearly. When we daydream, it is not linear. When we reminisce, it is not linear. Why should the books we write or read be?
Burned, forbidden, and circulated in samizdat (underground self-publishing, like zines in the West) until the 1980s, this twenties-era novel is a fantastical study of the nature of man. Taken literally, it is a biting view of eugenics. Taken figuratively, it demands the reader to question everything about identity, station and purpose.
A further note on samizdat: authors who published in this method did so by taking a serious risk. Vladimir Bukovsky summarized it as follows: “Samizdat: I write it myself, edit it myself, censor it myself, publish it myself, distribute it myself, and spend jail time for it myself.”
While this is hardly the case of self-publishing in the US in 2016, there is still the thrill of the subversive, the hope for success, and the satisfaction of having done for yourself.
I say this without pretense: I am pleased that my life, in its own way, has followed a similar path to William Goyen’s. I discovered the joys of the intellectual and cultural side of The American Southwest, and used its palette and influences in my art. I found The House of Breath to be a great inspiration to my own novel, Steps. I would hope my efforts are worthy of such comparison, but I believe it is imperative for creators to be utterly confident in their work.
Another example of postmodernist fiction, The House of Breath is a tale of a family and a town, told by many narrators, including a main character that could be one of two people. Goyen described it as an “aria,” and it is a truly unique work.
Arguably not postmodern literature, The Bible, The Koran, teachings from the Tao, Bhagavad Gita, Tibetan Book of the Dead are among the religious texts I value most.
A list of my influences would be incomplete without naming many of the major religious texts of the world. While I am a student of all faiths, leveraging none over the other, these teachings are absorbed by the wisest men. The words and ideas within have endured for reasons, and only fools seek to eschew them entirely.
I have talked before about my feelings on love and its many forms. In addition to those thoughts, I often come back to how few Bible verses are quoted as frequently as 1 Corinthians 13:4-13:
Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.
Love never fails. But where there are prophecies, they will cease; where there are tongues, they will be stilled; where there is knowledge, it will pass away. For we know in part and we prophesy in part, but when completeness comes, what is in part disappears. When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put the ways of childhood behind me. For now we see only a reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.
And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.
Such simple truths, set down two thousand years ago, enduring to this day.
I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention my own book, the writing of which has been as valuable to me as I hope the reading of it is for others. It has been a story of self-examination, an exercise in reflection and an attempt to trace patterns from true life. After all, humans do not follow narratives as characters do, as much as we wish. I have taken the lessons from all these previous works, and blended them with episodes from my own experience.
I invite you to download a free chapter and experience it for yourself:
Written by David James, Steps is the story of Issac, a country boy who leaves West Texas in search of hope, love and meaning. At every turn, however, he is met with insurmountable obstacles. Will he be able to overcome his internal and external demons?
Download a free excerpt from Steps today: