Metafiction Meets Itself
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Published in: July-August 2024 issue.


by José Luis Serrano
Translated from the Spanish by Lawrence Schimel
Seagull Books. 161 pages, $25.


READERS MIGHT THINK of “metafiction” as a postmodern, 20th-century invention, but it’s a narrative technique with a long history. Two early examples that come to mind are Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales and Laurence Sterne’s Tristram Shandy. Self-aware and self-referential, “breaking the fourth wall” between the work itself and the reader, self-consciously commenting on its own narrative structure and reminding readers that they’re dealing with a manufactured artifact, metafiction seems to take delight in its own artificiality. The technique had something of a heyday in the 1960s: John Barth, Kurt Vonnegut, Robert Coover, Vladimir Nabokov, Thomas Pynchon, among others, all employed metafiction techniques to great acclaim. To the list of great works of metafiction—Pale Fire, Slaughterhouse-Five, The Crying of Lot 49—we can now add José Luis Serrano’s third novel, The Worst Thing of All Is the Light, an astonishing, multi-layered work from 2015, now available in English thanks to Lawrence Schimel’s translation from the Spanish.

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Hank Trout served as editor of A&U: America’s AIDS Magazine.