In today’s San Diego Union Tribune an obituary graced the top of page B4 that drew me in like a magnet to metal: Acclaimed writer known for experimental fiction. It was the headline for the obituary of a local writer and retired professor, Dr. Raymond Federman, who had just passed at the age of 81.
I’d never heard the term “experimental fiction” before, and while I quipped as I folded the page back that I experiment with fiction all the time, deep down I knew this man must have taken fiction for a truly unconventional ride and I had to see where it was he had gone with it.
Turns out Dr. Federman experimented with the conventions of fiction – writing non-linear pieces that defied every boring rule of Story – to make sense of what happened when he was just a boy, not to turn the literary world on its head. Federman, a child of Jewish parents, was living in Paris in 1940. His obituary states that “he was spared from death during the Holocaust when his mother pushed him into a closet to hide when the Gestapo arrived and took the rest of his family. Dr. Federman never saw his parents or two sisters again.”
Imagine being twelve and having to emerge from a closet to that kind of desperate situation. No wonder when he was older he experimented with how to tell a story like that one. His “Voice in the Closet” is apparently one, long poetic sentence with no capitalization and no punctuation. His latest work about his life, called “Shhh” is due to be published next year.
“Shhh” is what Federman’s mother said to him – the last thing she said to him- as she pushed him into the closet.
I can tell already I must add it to my bucket list of books I simply have to read. And not just to see what experimental fiction look like. . .