INTERVIEW: LARRY McCAFFERY
You're someone with a close eye on the contemporary fiction scene and its marketplace. Can you sketch in what that marketplace looks like now from your vantage point, and why that is?
Right now the commercial scene for serious literature looks to me like one of the sets built for Honey, I Shrunk the Literary Marketplace, or The Incredible Shrinking Serious Fiction Writer. Everything looks normal enough until the camera pulls back to give you a perspective on how tiny your world has become.
What space exists there for alternative fiction?
The space for alternative publishing is increasingly less literally a book space of printed pages. You hear a lot these days about the small presses and university presses taking up the slack created when the commercial houses abandoned any commitment to publishing serious books, but, frankly, I don't see that happening. I mean who is publishing truly radical books right now? The Fiction Collective 2 (and its Black Ice Books spin-off), Dalkey, Sun and Moon, Permeable Press, McPherson, with maybe a few marginal places like Four Walls, the University of Nebraska Press, and Coffee House. There's probably a few others I haven't heard of yet, but overall the list is depressingly small. There does seem to be an expanding virtual space for alternative fiction in fanzines and certain Net sites like Mark Amerika's Alt-X (which has recently posted several long-out-of-print classics like Ronald Sukenick's Out and Federman's Voice in the Closet); but this space is mainly clogged with junk—non-commercial, even alternative stuff, but junk nonetheless. For most serious readers, it's just not going to be worth the effort of trying to locate quality fiction in this space until more effective navigational tools become available.
What sort of current trends and writers in and out of the alternative excite you these days?
What excites me these days definitely isn't picking up a book by another writer who wants to show how plugged in she is to the randomness and plurality and nihilism and hyperstimulation of our surface-laden post millennial life, or somebody who offers up her work with the sense of "Here it is, make of it what you will," but finding something that makes real demands on readers, something that's been obviously labored over by someone capable of creating memorable sentences, someone who hasn't seen it all and is willing to risk being unhip enough to write a book that actually matters. I guess above all, I'm bored with irony. Some recent turn-ons: DeLillo's Underworld, Doug Rice's The Blood of Mugwump, Pynchon's Mason and Dixon, Stephen Wright's Going Native (which still gets my vote for the book of the decade), Eurudice's f/32, William Vollmann's The Rifles, Bob Coover's The Briar Rose, David Matlin's How the Night is Divided.
LARRY McCAFFERY is author of numerous books on contemporary fiction, including Storming the Reality Studio: A Casebook of Cyberpunk and Postmodern Fiction and After Yesterday's Crash: The Avant-Pop Anthology. This interview first appeared in Rebel Yell (1998).