Pop Goes the Literature

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McSweeney's Enchanted Chamber of Astonishing Stories skews a little trashier but in the best possible way. It has the promiscuous atmosphere of one of those speakeasies where socialites slum with gangsters in an effort to mutually increase everybody's street cred. Atwood and Joyce Carol Oates mingle with the likes of Stephen King and Poppy Z. Brite. The results are remarkably pleasing. Atwood contributes a delicious, melancholy first-person piece about what it's like to be a young girl who turns into a yellow-eyed, red-clawed monster. Mitchell, who was short-listed for this year's Booker Prize, spins a yarn about a man searching for the knife that killed Japanese writer Yukio Mishima. China Mieville — who, as a science-fiction writer, comes from the gangster side of the equation — chimes in with a gorgeously creepy, almost indescribable story about city streets that turn restless and feral and wrestle one another.

This is literature in mid-transformation, the modernist bleeding into the postmodern and beyond. In his introduction to Astonishing Stories, Chabon calls this new high-low fiction "Trickster literature," and you can almost hear in that label the distant bugle call of a manifesto. And you can almost see the future of literature coming. Looks like it's going to be a page turner.

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