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Lit Fic - short for "Literary Fiction" - is a nebulous, broad term which emerged during the 1960s. Though it is usually contrasted with Genre Fiction ("Speculative Fiction", Mystery Fiction, Romance Novel, and so on), there's more to it than "any non-genre fiction"; in some respects, it is a genre unto itself, characterized by an aspiration to literary merit and a greater focus on style, psychological depth and character - as opposed to the focus on plot and narrative typical of genre fiction.
From this you might infer that this is typically not the kind of work that provides one's daily fix of vampire-hunting, magically-transforming, banana-bending, mecha-piloting, super-powered, time-travelling teenagers beating the odds. Rather, a piece of Lit Fic is much likelier to be about everyday people doing everyday things, dealing with everyday problems and eventually coming to realizations or personal transformations. A family struggles with cancer. A man struggles with death. A couple struggles with alcoholism. A child struggles to become an adult. A touch of Magical Realism might be allowed, but never to the point where it becomes the focus of the story.
In some sense, this induces an instinctive aversion to this genre in some readers' eyes; There is very little Escapism or Wish Fulfillment in Lit Fic, and if one believes that the point of fiction is escapism and speculation, they will likely see the genre as a glorified contradiction in terms. There is, of course, a flip side to the above: Lit Fic, more than any other genre, invests itself in real-life situations and real-life people. This is, generally, a good investment; in the end, even in the wackiest and most speculative adventures, the touch of real life - characters and their believable faults and struggles - is what ties everything together, carries the Willing Suspension of Disbelief and keeps the Eight Deadly Words at bay. No one wants to read a story which goes "PEWPEW — Lasers! — PEWPEWPEW!" for pages on end. So one might say, at their very base level, genre and Lit Fic are Not So Different, they just emphasize different aspects of storytelling.
Ostensibly for this reason, Lit fic is generally considered the mainstream of fiction, regardless of marketshare. The genre really only began to appear towards the end of the 19th century, when the corresponding genre fictions began to crystallize.
Archetypal authors in English include:
- Thomas Hardy (British, 1870s-90s)
- Henry James (American expat to Britain, 1870s-1910s)
- D. H. Lawrence (British, 1910s-20s)
- James Joyce (Irish, 1910s-30s)
- Ernest Hemingway (American, 1920s-40s)
- John Steinbeck (American, 1930s)
- F. Scott Fitzgerald (American, 1920s)
- William Faulkner (American 1920s-1960s)
- Virginia Woolf (British, 1920s)
- John Updike (American, 1960s-2000s)
- Norman Mailer (American, 1960s-2000s)
- Thomas Pynchon (American, 1960s-2000s)
- Joyce Carol Oates (American, ditto)
- Don DeLillo (American, 1970s-2010s)
- Toni Morrison (American, ditto)
- Ian Mc Ewan (British, 1970s-2010s)
- David Foster Wallace (American, 1980s-2000s) (While not half as famous as the above, it's a more than fair bet that future literary critics will mark him as the Lit Fic writer of Generation X.)
- Michael Chabon (American, 2000s)
- Dave Eggers (American, 2000s) the "other" famous Gen-X writer
- Jennifer Egan (American, 2000s)
- Jonathan Franzen (American, 2000s)
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