In my last two posts I brought up several works that might appeal to fiction and nonfiction sensibilities at once. I already mentioned The Ruin of Kasch, The Notebooks of Malte Laurids Brigge, the works of Henry Miller and The Sorrows of Young Werther.
I’ll take this space to list a few others if people are curious to read them and have this particular taste for the kind of blurred lines of which I speak:
Forty-Nine Steps by Roberto Calasso
Like The Ruin of Kasch and La Folie de Baudelaire, the book starts with a few central reference points and then pulls its own sort of heterodox narrative out of history. With this book, the special points of return are Karl Kraus, Walter Benjamin and Max Stirner.
Little Wilson and Big God by Anthony Burgess
Highly lyrical for an autobiography. Is it embellishment? Did Jack Wilson really have flings with grown women at the age of 11 and 12? Did his father really find him gurgling in his crib, freshly born just after his mother and sister died of Spanish Flu? Does it matter? It’s all told in such high style that it’s author makes his own life sound like Catch-22.
Atlas by William T. Vollmann
100 short stories split up into 2 sections of 50. Each story is numbered and has some palindromic relationship with the story corresponding to it on the opposite end of the book. It features stories that are embellished, real, and totally fictional, but I’ll leave that for you to make the distinction.
Either/Or by Soren Kierkegaard
Kierkegaard is a peculiar case. Through use of what he would come to call ‘indirect communication,’ he used characters to develop his never very systematic philosophy. Either/Or was his stylistic debut, published under a pseudonym (one of many) as he said things he didn’t believe, things he almost believed, and things he did believe through a dozen voices, whether it be the alternating aphorisms of the first section, the long essay on Mozart and Don Juan, the ‘Diary of a Seducer’ or the concluding ‘sermon.’
Radio Free Albemuth by Philip K. Dick
Published posthumously and containing elements of his later work, this one probably fits into the category I’ve been discussing for disconcerting reasons. Dick believed fictions and doubted facts—at least, this seems to be the case. The book is narrated by Dick himself as America acquires a Hitleresque president who launches the country into a nightmare of paranoia and work camps. But one of Dick’s friends seems to be receiving messages from a source beyond the stars to guide them.
The Letters of Rainier Maria Rilke
I emphasize the word ‘blurred’ for this one, for his letters often have a similar appeal to his one novel. Both offer reflections purchased only with great time and much patience. To read Rilke’s letters is not only to put oneself in the face of frightening truths, but to be challenged to follow your own conclusions.