Postmodern fiction and metafiction usually draws attention to itself in some way. Rather than trying to make the reader lose themselves in the fictional world, postmodern short stories make it clear that what’s happening is artificial. Some of these short stories contain commentary on writing or storytelling. They might also blur the line between fiction and reality. See also:
Postmodern or Metafiction Short Stories
“The Blue Air Compressor” by Stephen King
Gerald Nately knocks at the door of a tall, unusual house. It’s answered by Mrs. Leighton, who’s rented out a cottage on her property to Gerald. He’s struck by how big and old Mrs. Leighton is. Gerald is a writer and he agrees to let her see some of his work. At this point, Steve King interjects with some comments on the story.
This story can be read in the preview of Shining in the Dark. (27% in)
“A Conversation with My Father” Grace Paley
A middle-aged woman talks to her bedridden father about tragedy in fiction and in life.
“A Conversation with My Father” is the second story in the Amazon preview of The Penguin Book of the Modern American Short Story.
“Circuit City” by J Robert Lennon
The narrator and two coworkers, both named John, suspect that the manager, also named John, is planning to rob the electronics store they work at. They’re having a closing out sale, which John decides to make cash-only. It turns out to be a huge success.
This story can be read in the preview of Tiny Crimes: Very Short Tales of Mystery and Murder. (32% in)
“A Continuity of Parks” Julio Cortazar
A man relaxes with a novel that he had started earlier. In it a woman and her lover are scheming against her husband. The man reading becomes immersed in the story. (Summary and Analysis)
Postmodern Short Stories, Cont’d
“In the Cemetery Where Al Jolson is Buried” by Amy Hempel
The narrator visits her friend, who is dying of cancer, in a California hospital. The friend wants to talk about trivial things. The narrator has waited two months to visit. (Summary & Analysis)
Read “In the Cemetery Where Al Jolson is Buried”
“There Was Once” by Margaret Atwood
A storyteller is constantly interrupted while trying to relate a traditional fairy tale. The listener objects to the many clichés and other details. (Summary)
Read here (Scroll down slightly)
“Life-Story” John Barth
A writer thinks about what to do with his current work, questioning the nature of the prose he writes. Perhaps he is a character in one of his stories and his life is fiction.
“Happy Endings” by Margaret Atwood
John and Mary meet. What happens next varies greatly. The “A” story has a happy ending. Story versions “B” through “F” go differently. We learn a lesson about plots and how stories end.
Read “Happy Endings”
“Swimming Lessons” by Rohinton Mistry
Kersi lives in an apartment complex in Toronto and compares it to a housing complex he remembers from India. He writes letters to his parents back home. Kersi fantasizes about women but doesn’t have any real contact with them. He signs up for swimming lessons.
“Pierre Menard, Author of the Quixote” by Jorge Luis Borges
The narrator, a French academic, outlines the works of Pierre Menard, an author. According to the narrator, these are merely Menard’s visible works. He is going to focus on what he believes to be the authors’ unparalleled achievement—some chapters of the novel Don Quixote.
Read “Pierre Menard, Author of the Quixote”
Metafiction Short Stories, Cont’d
“Elbow Room” by James Alan McPherson
Paul Frost, a white man and a conscientious objector to the Vietnam War, marries Virginia Valentine, a black woman who has traveled extensively.
“Lost in the Funhouse” by John Barth
A family goes to a funhouse with a neighbor girl, Magda, whom the two boys in the family are attracted to. The thirteen-year-old boy, Ambrose, comes to some realizations about himself. A narrator interrupts the story to comment on it and on storytelling.
“A Girl’s Story” David Arnason
A male writer describes the difficulty he has with his latest story. It’s about a beautiful woman sitting on a riverbank. He talks about his struggles with plot, symbolism, and avoiding stereotypes.
“The Harvest” Amy Hempel
A woman gets hurt in an accident and relates what happened. She also tells us when she’s exaggerating certain details. Then she goes back and tells us what really happened.
“How to Tell a True War Story” Tim O’Brien
The narrator tells war stories interspersed with commentary on story telling.
Read “How to Tell a True War Story”
“The Fifth Story” by Clarice Lispector
The narrator is going to tell us at least three true stories. A woman overheard her complaining about cockroaches and gave her a recipe that would kill them.
I’ll continue to add more metafiction & postmodern short stories as I find them.