Fiction is often thought of as a genre for people who are not interested in serious subjects. Intelligent readers are encouraged to seek out non-fiction works that engage with real issues and events. However, current trends in literature are leading authors away from mundane narratives and simplistic themes. Though many of the fiction novels that have recently received mainstream attention are either paranormal romances or science fiction for young adults, there is an emerging movement of mature fiction with engaging, unconventional plots and inventive structures.
House of Leaves by Mark Z. Danielewski was one of the first novels to successfully turn a layered format into a part of the book’s plot. The novel is about a troubled young man who finds a manuscript written by a blind man who has just died. The manuscript is an academic study of a documentary about a haunted house. The reader has to consciously make decisions about the act of reading in order to make her way through the book. It is a given that not all of the information presented is reliable; the notion of a blind man being able to watch a film and write about it is absurd. It treads even further into the impossible when it becomes apparent that the film might not be real within the context of the plot. The reader has to sift through all of the misinformation and figure out which narrator to trust. No two people have the same impression of the plot of House of Leaves. The decisions made during the reading process lead to vastly different interpretations of the events being presented.
The Translation of Dr. Apelles by David Treuer is another novel that experiments with structure, though this book progresses in a more linear fashion than House of Leaves does. The genius of the book lies in the way its sense of reality becomes inverted so gradually that the reader does not notice until it has already occurred. The story’s references to itself spiral inward infinitely and only make sense after the introduction is read again at the end. There are clues throughout the dual narrative that nothing is quite as it seems, but the language keeps the reader focused on Dr. Apelles and his actions without ever addressing his work, which is the book itself. It takes a forceful kind of reading to break the barriers of Treuer’s prose and figure out what his book is trying to accomplish.
Bloodroot by Amy Greene is a much more straightforward novel, but even this gentle family history reflects the contemporary trend of unusual structures. Bloodroot is primarily about one woman, Myra Jean Lamb, but her story is told through the eyes of other people. In a way, it is a story told around her, not about her. The reader never learns Myra Jean’s side of the story until the very end.
There are many more fiction books – Read Me! that exemplify this break from typical ways of telling stories. Novels about memories or the act of writing tend to fall into this category. Difficult narratives are at the forefront of fiction these days, and that is a testament to the intelligence of fiction readers.