Emergent Fiction
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Emergent Fiction

The sixty-four works of emergent fiction received this year evidence several noteworthy transitions in Canadian prose. While it is admittedly problematic to discuss the novels and collections of short stories as some form of unified whole, several patterns emerged that merit highlighting and demand critical attention because they represent new directions for Canadian fiction.

The texts mark the arrival of a new wave of literary experimentation that embraces risk-taking and the pursuit of novelty as fundamental characteristics of good art and great storytelling. The featured texts created wonderfully new ways to tell stories by inventing narrative techniques or breaking with generic conventions. This trend is, perhaps, best exemplified by the fact that many fictions – such as Anakana Schofield's Martin John, Jess Taylor's Pauls, Jean Marc Ah-Sen's Grand Menteur, Jon Chan Simpson's Chinkstar – were difficult to describe as their prose was so creative that it defied existing categories and ways of making sense of literature. In contrast to earlier Canadian experimental movements that tended to import and adapt new forms from other places, emergent authors appear to be tinkerers who find beauty in the unexpected and take delight in the pursuit of the avant-garde.

The emergent fiction of 2015 also suggests there is a new shift from realism toward romanticism in Canadian prose. The two modes are distinguished by their degrees of artifice: realism privileges rationality, causality, and everyday characters, whereas romanticism features irrationality, [End Page 1] the fantastic, and characters with hyperbolized or extraordinary abilities. Canada has been a bastion for mimesis since the modern realist movement emerged in the 1920s. It is remarkable that the majority of texts blended romantic conventions – allegory, metaphor, magic, the marvellous, and intentional artifice – with psychologically compelling characters and contemporary settings. The degree of romanticism varied. On the lower end of the scale are the skateboarding teenagers who thwart a criminal enterprise – Hardy Boys style – in Michael Christie's If I Fall, If I Die or the surrealist mobsters in Andrew Battershill's Pillow. The protagonists' talents are torqued like those in an action movie. On the high end of the scale are the robots, mermaids, sirens, and banshees who populate the stories in Katherine Fawcett's The Little Washer of Sorrows. In the latter example, the fantastical facilitates aesthetic speculations – beautiful, entertaining ''what ifs.''

A second noteworthy feature of the emergent romanticism is the urbanity of the fiction. Historically, Canada's urban fiction has been regionalist and/or ironic – texts tend to document a sense of place, satirize the absurdities of urban living, or feature tragedies of belonging. The vast wilderness absorbed the romantic thoughts of Canadians, while the city served as a dumpster, of sorts, that contained the horrors of modernity: dehumanizing industrialization, traumatic immigration, visible inequity, social disruption. These themes remain prevalent, but recent fiction has pursued the urban milieu with a spirit of wonderment, playfulness, and hope. See Simpson's Chinkstar, an epic in which fantastically talented gangsta-rappers imagine a new form of transnational belonging in downtown Red Deer. Witness too the uncanny surrealism of R.W. Gray's Entropic and the fantastic speculations in Rhonda Douglas's Welcome to the Circus. Never before have so many authors imagined Canadian urban centres as magical places where the extraordinary occurs.

Authors also expressed a heightened thematic and aesthetic interest in post-industrialism – the hollowing out of manufacturing and related industries due to automation and offshoring, and the simultaneous rise of the new economy, particularly the knowledge-, creativity-, and service-based industries. The social and economic repercussions of post-industrialism were prominent in texts featuring millennials and the Great Recession. Millennial characters express a widespread anxiety that recognizes they will never have it as easy as boomers and are the first generation in hundreds of years to witness a decline in quality of life in comparison to their parents. The fiction avoids forcefully contesting post-industrialism but rather contemplates how the gig economy affects one's sense of self and relationships with others. Several depicted how post-industrialism is causing a crisis of masculinity in which young males struggle to maintain traditional identities based on financial success, home ownership...


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