TRANSGRESSIVE FICTION: writing that goes beyond the usual norms of acceptable creativity

transgressive fiction

When I sit down to read the New York Times Sunday Edition I have a pre-conditioned format.   I start with the Magazine Section, and then turn to the New York Times Book Review.   These two sections represent my highest priority when it comes to Sunday reading.

This past week I was sailing along enjoying the various articles when I turned to page 34 of the Book Review.  It was filled with an article by Paula Bomer, who is widely recognized as an author who holds nothing back.  Her books are described by some as “Raw.”

This article on the SHORTLIST  page was entitled Transgressive FictionI was not familiar with such a genre of literature and began a brief search to discover what it meant.   I found nothing in my traditional resources that identified such a category of writing.   I took the question to my primary resource these days, Peter Carlson, a writer which whom I share space daily at Starbucks.   Surely his MFA would have given him a clue as to such a genre.  But he had never heard of the category either.   Today he found the word transgressive in a New Yorker article and shared it with me, but it was not about a genre; it was just an adjective which described someone who “went too far” on something.  We agreed that the author, Paula Bomer, must have been using the word in the same way.   We were just reading the article’s title incorrectly.  Neither he nor I is used to making such an admission casually.

Still intrigued by the term, I decided to go to Google, and…sure enough…there was a clarification of the term.    Transgressive Fiction is…indeed…a genre.   It pertains to writing that is willing to go into areas of life which are otherwise considered taboo.   Pedophilia, incest, sadomasochism which leads to death, and others subjects of similarly light-hearted and comfortable topics   which we all enjoy reading when we are looking for humor or satisfying romance.   (Right!)

An article by  C.  M. Humphries says this:

Transgressive fiction started with prose that was often banned or chastised for being too obscene, too vulgar, or just too close to home. These stories brought the social struggles of their times into an honest – admittedly sometimes dark – portrayal. Some people go to the extreme, while others might just rip on consumerism.”


Humphries goes on to identify such authors as Amy Hemple and James Joyce as trendsetters in the genre.

I know why I’ve never heard of the genre.   It’s so far from anything I might choose to read that I would never have found it.   Just reading the four reviews Bomer writes on the page in the New York Times Book Review is enough to scare me away.

_______________________________________Photo  Credit:  Al Morin

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