10 Works of Literary Fantasy to Jump Start Your Imagination


Tomorrow marks the release of an exciting new addition to the modern fabulist genre — Texas-based author Manuel Gonzales’s debut collection, The Miniature Wife . We’re always excited about anything cross-genre, in part because it feels essential, somehow more real than sticking to a single effect, and we’re particular fans of the realist/fantasist dichotomy in fiction. After all, that’s sort of the way we experience the world — half magic, half trying to find socks that match. After the jump, we’ve collected 10 works of modern literary fantasy that will have you seeing those socks in a whole new light — or maybe just seeing the ghost rabbit next to them.

The Miniature Wife , Manuel Gonzales

Gonzales is as interested in the mundanity of daily life as he is in unicorns — which basically sums up our feelings about things, too. This inventive collection marries the fantastic with the utterly non-fantastic, or investigates the in-between: a plane in a 20-year-long holding pattern, a psychological illness in which “a kernel of an idea infects the brain, like the spore of a fungus might infect the brain of an ant.” After all, we know what it’s like to stand around wondering — hoping — if that creature in your barn is made of magic.

Magic for Beginners , Kelly Link

We know, we can’t shut up about this book. But we promise it’s for good reason. Link weaves her delicious absurdity into wise little gems of stories: a family lives in a house that feels increasingly haunted, probably by rabbits; there are self-aware zombies, teenagers obsessed with a spectral TV show that might be bleeding into their reality, there’s Grandmother Zofia’s faery handbag. But Link is no mere gender-bender — despite the varying nature of their characters’, these stories all have beating hearts.

Sharp Teeth , Toby Barlow

Werewolf books have been in no short supply in the past few years, but we still prefer Barlow’s 2008 epic poem or perhaps novel in verse, about the lupine gangs fighting it out for the primest bits of LA’s soft underbelly. We guess you could call it neo-horror, but we guarantee it will give you a whole new vision of the genre.

The Bloody Chamber , Angela Carter

In this collection, Carter takes every fairy tale you’ve ever known and makes them dark, sensual, and unruly — or at least more so than they were before. In Carter’s capable hands, our childhoods seem much more disturbing, but at this vantage point, we’re willing to agree with her.

Unclean Jobs for Women and Girls , Alissa Nutting

Nutting’s stories are the weirdest, which if you’ve been a follower of this space, you’ll recognize as the compliment it is. This slim collection, which was chosen by Ben Marcus as the winner of the Starcherone Prize for Innovative Fiction, starts off with a Table of Jobs — which is of course a table of stories — that includes offerings like “Bandleader’s Girlfriend,” “Corpse Smoker,” and “Dinner.” But though the stories Nutting tells are swathed in surreality, stripped bare they’re tiny, piercing studies of the way people are.

Elect Mr. Robinson for a Better World , Donald Antrim

At first, the reality in this short novel seems to be the reality we know, if tied to a place whose rules we certainly don’t. But Antrim slowly disabuses us of that notion as we go along, showing us the black strangeness bit by bit. This book will make you think a little bit harder about what your power animal is — and if he can swim.

Little, Big , John Crowley

This book is surely a Great American Novel — a sweeping, magical-realist epic that spans four generations, filled with true love, prophecies, creaky old houses, and oh, fairies. But don’t let that turn you away — Crowley’s writing is gorgeous, and this elegantly rendered tale is one for the ages.

American Gods , Neil Gaiman

You can always count on Neil Gaiman for a little imagination rev. In this road trip novel-cum-fantasy epic, it’s the old gods, led by Odin, versus the new gods, the gods of the machines. Grim and funny in turns, this book will have you thinking about American mythology in a whole new way.

Mr. Fox , Helen Oyeyemi

Like Angela Carter, Oyeyemi takes fairy tales as her source material, this time to examine and re-examine the Bluebeard tale. Here there are ghost women, or maybe muse women, or maybe just women. Here, girls get their heads chopped off, but we don’t cry. We’re happy for them.

Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell , Susanna Clarke

Another epic genre-bender, Clarke’s novel is more concerned with the tension between reason and madness than it is with magic, but it’s still a little concerned with magic. “I think the novel is viewed as something new,” she has said, “…blending together a few genres – such as fantasy and adventure and pastiche historical – plus there’s the whole thing about slightly knowing footnotes commenting on the story.” Indeed.