August 17, 2010

Don't Try This at Home, Kids!

an editor at Arcus Publishing prepares to appraise a work of metafiction

Comedy gold from the Submissions page at "Arcus Publishing":

FICTION: We will publish in our literary magazine works of prose up to 9000 words in length, but be sure to go light on the pretentiousness. We like stories that keep us interested, are well-constructed, have sympathetic characters, and avoid needless experimentation. An experimental work will be considered, but very carefully.

Maybe when these editors advance from the larva to the pupa stage, they can become interns at The New Yorker and write the “Briefly Noted” book reviews, like this one:

The Sexual Life of an Islamist in Paris

by Leïla Marouane, translated from the French by Alison Anderson (Europa; $15)

To disguise his Algerian heritage and land a job at a French bank, the narrator of this tragicomic novel has whitened his skin, straightened his hair, and legally changed his name—in short, declared “an ethnic war against himself.” Once a devout Muslim, he is now bent on losing his virginity at the belated age of forty. To that end, he abandons the home he shares with his mother in a project on the fringes of Paris and acquires a Left Bank bachelor pad. Bathos follows, in a series of hilariously inconclusive sexual encounters. Less compelling are the postmodern high jinks, as the hero starts to fear that a female writer—a stand-in for the author—is turning him into a character in a novel.

I happened to read Marouane’s novel and found it delightful. The metafictional elements are integral to the narrative and not frippery at all; to dismiss them as such is utterly to miss the book’s point. Which means that this particular pupa has a bright future ahead of it, and might one day blossom into an organism such as Jiminy Critic.

No comments: