I love words. And I love seeing them strung together in new and different ways. There was one particular writing workshop that allowed me the space and freedom to experiment with word combinations and sentence structures, playing with various forms until I found one that I felt I could continue with. What I wanted most was to break away from constructing traditional narratives. I worked in mainstream publishing for five years and eventually became bored with commercial novels: here’s your beginning, the plot and source of tension, some character build, the climax, and the resolution–yay, happy ending! I learned that many editors rejected submissions because the ending was too depressing or didn’t involve the two main (heterosexual) characters living happily ever after. The American market demanded manufactured fiction neatly wrapped and tied with a sparkly bow–a sense of completion.
It was difficult for me to write stories that followed these cookie-cutter guidelines with formulaic/conventional plot devices that ultimately just didn’t serve the stories I was writing or wanted to write. My professor from that workshop introduced me to her own experimental novel–a daring text that utilized programming language to code the traumatic events of a rape. This is putting it lightly–very lightly. This rape narrative affected me more than anything I’d read previously (and I’ve read a lot) because of its hauntingly repetitive nature; the words and actions were mercilessly drilled into me. I had nightmares. But isn’t that what writing is supposed to do? Evoke some sort of reaction, any reaction. And for me, that’s achieved through fragmented, non-linear structures, creative word-play, and minimalism.
Here’s a list of my 5 favorite experimental writing books:
There Is No Year by Blake Butler
A fractured narrative about a father, mother and son who move into a new home. Butler will leave you wanting more after each stilted section, but There Is No Year forces you to question everything.
RE.LA.VIR by Jan Ramjerdi
This is the rape narrative mentioned above, told through various perspectives. You won’t ever feel the same after reading this novella. My favorite line is, “I do not know the woman I am until I am raped.” I’ve read this book probably three or four times, but I don’t think I can read it again.
The Sound and the Fury by William Faulkner
After I read As I Lay Dying and The Sound and the Fury, I decided that I hated Faulkner—vehemently. His interminable strings of streams of consciousness, confusing and inexplicable time jumps, and indecipherable dialogue. I really thought I was an idiot because of my inability to understand his work, but then I began dissecting the text, pulling out fragments and letting them sit in my head for a while. And I learned to appreciate his writing more and more.
Aeiilrttvy by Bob Szantyr
Well, this isn’t a work of fiction but it’s certainly experimental. It’s an alphabetization of Einstein’s complete text, Relativity. So while it isn’t a narrative of any traditional or non-traditional sort, it’s a wholly engaging work that made me rethink my relationship with words. This is a text that I truly interacted with on a strange new level because of its ability to distort my immediate surroundings (space). If you require some guidance while moving through Aeiilrttvy, read Jesse Bransford’s afterword.
Spinning Will by P.M. Woods
I remember hearing P.M. Woods read from Spinning Will, and the story became almost tangible to me. The novel follows Nora who is having a long-distance affair with a married man; obviously, this leads to serious trust issues and her own insecurities, clearly conveyed through dream sequences and fragmented memories. I read this novel at a time when I was experiencing a similar situation, except he wasn’t married (just in a committed relationship with another woman), so Nora really came alive for me.