Edited by Delia Sherman and Theodora Goss (Small Beer Press, 2007)
It is commonplace to hear that if certain canonical writers were writing today — Herman Melville, say, or James Joyce — they would never be published. Leaving aside the difficulties that such writers faced in getting their books published in their own times, it does seem that major publishing houses are skittish about publishing books that are unlike other books, difficult to classify. Which is why I like to say that if Franz Kafka or Mikhail Bulgakov were writing today, they would be published by Small Beer Press.
Kelly Link, perhaps Small Beer’s most well-known author, is also one of its editors; Link has made her reputation on a series of acclaimed short stories that bend genres and twist tropes in a Borgesian way. Likewise, Small Beer’s roster of authors is rife with writers like John Crowley and Carol Emshwiller, whose works are about as good as books get and also elude description by genre. As literary critics don’t seem to analyze anything until they’ve slapped a hot pink label on it, a host of contending terms have emerged to describe these indescribable books. One is “interstitial,” which Small Beer’s Interfictions, a multiple-author short-story collection edited by Delia Sherman and Theodora Goss, seeks not only to define, but demonstrate. The result is a wildly varied cacophony of a book, by turns beautiful, funny, frightening, frustrating, and baffling, but never boring.
Each story in Interfictions is a highwire act, writers writing without a net, and it thus isn’t a perfect collection; while no story falls outright, some are wobblier than others. But it’s telling that previous reviews of the volume have picked different stories to champion; there really is something here for everyone to be blown away by. (For the record, my favorites are Christopher Barzak’s “What We Know about the Lost Families of — House,” a haunted house story that also turns a keen eye on social conventions and the relation of people to their environment in rural Ohio, and Veronica Schanoes’s “Rats,” a story about punk rock told as an extremely self-aware fairy tale, back when fairy tales didn’t shirk from darkness and violence.)
For readers who are more interested in ambitious experiments than modest successes — and the occasional story that leaves them breathless — Interfictions is a wonderful introduction to Small Beer Press’s broader catalog and a group of writers who are widening the publishing landscape’s horizon for what’s possible in fiction.
Brian Francis Slattery is an editor of the New Haven Review.