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Cracked Reality: A Reading List

These days I find myself waking up every morning from anxious dreams where I would not be surprised at all to discover that I’ve been transformed into a verminous insect, or to discover that Trump is president. I never wander far from a news feed. I find myself constantly muttering “could that have just happened?” and “can this be real?” and no one seems able to answer those questions in a satisfactory way.

Fortunately there is a remedy for times when reality is too strange to believe. The remedy is to be found in reading fiction–not as an escape, but as an explanation. Some fiction writers have an uncanny ability to capture a reality deeper than what is in front of your own eyes. These talented writers can give your feelings context and perspective, in a way non-fiction can’t tackle.  They give you the assurance that you are not the only one who feels this way.

Kafka is a go-to 20th century author to describe the cracked-reality feeling I’m talking about, when life is getting stranger and more unreal-seeming all the time. Personally I’m more drawn to the fiction of Witold Gombrowicz and Bruno Schulz–see this magnificent and unsettling new translation of Schulz’s stories from Northwestern University Press.

But I’m hoping to spotlight the work of current writers, those who are capturing the anxiety of right-now, and who seem to have thrown out every rule in the book except for their preference for simple declarative sentences.

Today I’m posting a list of works like these, not in any particular order. See what you think. Although some of these were marketed as “horror” they somehow give me solace when I read them. They are unusual and affecting and if you haven’t already you should read them. I’ll be following up with a closer look in the days to come.

  1. Threats by Amelia Gray
  2. Fever Dream by Samanta Schweblin
  3. The Vegetarian by Kang Han
  4. Ladivine by Marie NDiaye
  5. The Argonauts by Maggie Nelson
  6. Die, My Love by Ariana Harwicz
  7. Radiant Terminus by Antoine Volodine
  8. Things We Lost in the Fire by Mariana Enríquez
  9. Annihilation by Jeff Vandermeer
  10. Remainder by Tom McCarthy
  11. Metropole by Karinthy Ferenc
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