Frontier by Can Xue
As my literary journey continues, I seem to increasingly be drawn to stranger and stranger works of fiction. The more proudly weird, surreal, or unabashedly subversive a novel is, the more I like it. It is at this frontier of literature (heh see what I did there) that I find myself often. It is here that Can Xue’s remarkable novel lies.
Frontier is set in the strange Pebble Town, a tiny village in Chinese interior up against the Snow Mountain. It is here that wolves roam the streets at night, gardens appear and disappear, and the world is not quite what we’re used to. This idiosyncratic narrative weaves in and out of the different lives of the people of this town.
Can Xue is one of China’s foremost experimental writers. She has written several novels, poetry, and hundreds of short stories; many of which haven’t made it into English translation.
She’s also a peculiar figure. Someone who takes her role a writer more seriously into something akin to performance art (she refers to herself in the third-person among other things). I’ve always been fascinated by people that take their art, and live it in the real world like that. But however you feel about her “antics”, there’s something about her writing that has started to get western attention (some even saying she could be a runner-up for a Nobel). This was my first introduction to her work, and my was it fascinating.
There’s something about this novel that makes it feel like you’re lost, wandering in a dream. Put it perfectly in the introduction, it actually seems like the book seems longer than it is. And not in a droning, this is boring kind of way, but as an enthralling journey into the surreal, avant-garde mind of Ms. Xue.
It is abstract. It is unconventional. It is experimental. Don’t pick up this book, thinking you’ll get some slightly weird SFF. But if you’re attracted to the aforementioned qualities at all. If you’ve liked the work of Kafka, Joyce, and other writers who traveled at the fringes of their literary times. This book is for you.