Postmodern Literature in 2021

This week, a colleague asked me for novel recommendations (sic) of postmodern literature. But what is postmodern literature in 2021? Characters aware of a narrative while doing lots of self-reflection? Surviving late capitalism? Bafflement? Malaise?

I’ve seen Clarke’s Piranesi on a list of postmodern novels, along with books by Rushdie, Egan, Mitchell, and Whitehead. I look at such a list, though, and think: “Isn’t that just ‘literary fiction or literary sci-fi’?” And then I post-modernly step back from my question and wonder what I’ve just done to the rest of fiction and sci-fi by excluding it from being literary.

So I try again: Stanford has a nice page on postmodernism to peruse, as well as The University of Alabama. And Purdue OWL boasts a table comparing modernism and postmoderism.

After reflecting on these, I reviewed my running list of books I’ve read, and thought, “Why don’t I recommend what assumes the reader is going to participate in some meaning-making, while the author has crafted a modern world that may not be quite real (or is hyper-real), while characters have some sense of something being off?”

And here’s a short list of recommendations for my colleague, in no particular order:

  • Observatory Mansions – Edward Carey
  • Trash – Andy Mulligan
  • Sweetland – Michael Crummey
  • She Weeps Each Time You’re Born – Quan Barry
  • The Dream of My Return – Horacio Castellanos Moya
  • Love Slaves of Helen Hadley Hall – James Magruder
  • My Year of Rest and Relaxation – Ottessa Moshfegh
  • A Cure for Suicide – Jesse Ball
  • This Town Sleeps – Dennis E. Staples
  • My Cat Yugoslavia – Pajtim Statovci

Remember, if you’re going to interact with these books, go to an independent bookstore, library, or a service like Libro.fm or Bookshop.org that supports, instead of destroys, our literary ecosystem.

Would you consider the above books postmodern? Are we already in the neomodern literary movement, and that’s where some of these land? Let me know, here or elsewhere.

Read more about my own fiction writing here. Some links on this site may lead to a benefit to the site author.

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