10 Postmodern Novels you should read if you love Transgressive Fiction

If you're asking "what books should I read to understand Postmodern Literature", I'm here to answer that question for you. As I discussed in another article "Postmodern Literature Characteristics", Postmodern literature is a form of experimental literature that is characterized by the use of metafiction (emphasizes its own constructedness to continually reminds the reader to be aware they are reading or viewing a fictional work), unreliable narration (the credibility of narrator is compromised), self-reflexivity (happens when a sentence, idea or formula refers to itself), intertextuality (the complex interrelationship between a text taken as basic to the creation or interpretation of the text), and which often thematizes both historical and political issues. This style emerged strongly in the 1960s mainly in Burroughs' novel "Naked Lunch in Paris" in 1959. This is considered by some the first truly postmodern novel because it is fragmentary, with no central narrative arc. It also employs pastiche to fold in elements from popular genres such as detective fiction and science fiction. After Burrough, works of authors such as Kurt Vonnegut, Thomas Pynchon, William Gaddis, Philip K. Dick, Kathy Acker, and John Barth were examples of implementing a Postmodern perspective. So, here is the list of my top 10 favorite authors and their books which I believe are the best works in Transgressive Fiction in the sense of breaking the norms and literature that implement Postmodernism in their writing.

Note: some links in this article are to articles that are not yet published. Please check later.

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1. Phillip K. Dick: Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? (1968)

This science Fiction novel contains almost all of the essential themes of postmodernism fiction. Unlike the movie which does not have some of the themes that originated in the book, the novel definitely sets forth a tone from which those added themes naturally reveal themselves. The novel is set in a completely urbanized future and the story began with several replicants have escaped from an off-world colony and immigrated to earth. A special police officer, Rick Deckard, works as a bounty hunter who kills or as it mentions in the book 'retires' androids that illegally come to earth after killing or injuring their owners. He is assigned the job of killing the six Nexus-6 type robots who recently arrived on Earth after one of them injured his superior officer. The plot unfolds along the lines of his search for each of the androids.

In this future where much of reality has been pushed aside by the multinational capitalistic corporations' use of the simulacrum. What makes it postmodern are political perspectives over humanity as well as a blurred line between what the author really believes is good or bad and what he wants you to assume as good or bad. As an example, humans in this society are doing similar things to androids as politicians have done in the past to justify the enslavement or extermination of an entire ethnicity or religion. The specials, which are humans that have mutated because of the fallout, have been given status between androids and humans. Most humans look down upon them with disgust and think that they have lost their humanity. This seems to contradict the idea of only needing to have compassion for others to be human, especially because many humans in the novel are not compassionate.

2. James Baldwin: Go Tell It on the Mountain (1953)

Baldwin’s early years formed the basis for his first novel (semi-autobiographical), Go Tell It on the Mountain. All of Baldwin’s novels contain powerful passages and superior writing. Normally, the subject is the racial situation in the US. This novel tells the story of John Grimes, an intelligent teenager in 1930s in Harlem, and his relationship with his family and his church as a journey to Jesus. A journey made possible only by his reciprocated affection for, and possibly reciprocated attraction to, another young man. The novel is just as much one of comings, if not quite one of coming out. In my opinion, Baldwin gives us a subtle but radical vision of queer male Christianity that is obscured, because it's focalized through the uncomprehending perspective of his adolescent protagonist. When we try to see beyond protagonist's limited understanding of his own conversion experience, we see that Baldwin has given us a postmodern sentimental but political vision of his literary double's sincere, queer encounter with the sacred. Baldwin's radical message goes against the norms of "tolerance" or "acceptance" of non-heteronormative identities or behaviors.

3. Vladimir Nabokov: Pale Fire (1962)

Like many other writers during the American prose of the 60s, Nabokov represents the main link between the earliest periods of the modernist movement and the development of that way of writing that is called “postmodernist” in the USA (Daiu, 2000). Pale Fire among his works is seen as Nabokov's masterpiece. This novel is based on John Shade’s final poem, "Pale Fire." So, the novel comprises the text of the poem itself. What makes it postmodern is the two plots structure of this novel: the apparent plot that is by a delusional unreliable narrator named Kinbote who is a professor of Zemblan at Wordsmith College and the true plot that is what actually happened in the story. In the apparent plot, two characters, Kinbote and Shade are close friends and neighbors. On their frequent nightly walks, Kinbote tells Shade true stories about King Charles of Zembla's reign, the revolution that overthrew him, and his daring escape from Zembla. As Kinbote reveals more about King Charles, it becomes clear that Kinbote believes he is King Charles and is disguised as Charles Kinbote to avoid the extremist Zemblan assassinate him. Of course, this is not at all true as Kinbote is a delusional megalomaniac and his narration is completely unreliable. So, a careful reader can piece together Nabokov’s clues and arrive at the novel’s true plot, which is V. Botkin is a Russian-born language professor at College who is not well-liked by his colleagues because he’s an unpleasant, eccentric, thin-skinned, self-centered, gay, and a pedophile—not to mention clinically insane, suffering from delusions and hallucinations that he cannot control.

The way Nabokov put together the story, the whole structure, and the plot make this novel as one of the most striking early examples of postmodernism and has become a famous test case for theories about reading because of the apparent impossibility of deciding between several radically different interpretations.

4. Julio Cortazar: Hopscotch (1963)

Hopscotch is a novel by Argentine writer Julio Cortázar written in Spanish and later translated into English in 1966. It is a surrealistic book that breaks all expected creative writing structures and rules. It is a stream-of-consciousness that can be read according to 2 different sequences of chapters with exploration with multiple endings through unanswerable questions. This book is highly influenced by Henry Miller’s reckless and relentless search for truth in post-decadent Paris and Daisetz Teitaro Suzuki’s modal teachings on Zen Buddhism, Surrealism, and the French New Novel, as well as the "riffing" aesthetic of jazz and New Wave Cinema. If that's not postmodern, I don't know what is.

The book is split into 56 regular chapters and 99 'expendable' ones. It can be read either straight through the regular chapters (ignoring the expendable ones) or following numbers left at the end of each chapter telling you which one to read next which can be (73 – 1 – 2 – 116 – 3 – 84, and so on.).

5. Manuel Puig: Kiss of the Spider Woman (1976)