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There is a certain kind of modernist story that involves the sudden appearance of an inexplicable thing in an ordinary social situation -- something ususlly large and unavoidable -- that's not particualrly threatening but is inconvenient and eerie.  Gradually people come to either accept it or explain it to themselves.  Eventually it vanishes, or it never does.  The only example I can think of is Marques's "A Very Old Man with Enormous Wings."  I know there are others.  ANy examples?


( 42 comments — Leave a comment )
Oct. 26th, 2015 12:43 am (UTC)
"There's a unicorn in the garden, eating the lilies." I feel, without ground probably, that this is a staple of Thurber's absurdity.

Stephen Vincent Benet's "The King of the Cats" may be an example of the type.

(It's a fantasy trope, isn't it? The Dragon Griaule is an example of this, and Towing Jehovah, on the monstrous side.)
Oct. 26th, 2015 02:22 am (UTC)
Perfect! You could even name this trope "unicorn in garden."
Oct. 26th, 2015 01:33 am (UTC)
I didn't much like the novel, but the premise of Lauren Groff's The Monsters of Templeton was that an immense dead sea monster washed ashore in a sleepy New England town.

Oct. 26th, 2015 01:41 am (UTC)
Wells's In the Days of the Comet uses this device for much of the novel - but the comet does eventually arrive.
Oct. 26th, 2015 07:46 am (UTC)
Also Wells's earlier The Wonderful Visit about an angel in an English village (he's shot down; later he dies).
Oct. 26th, 2015 02:12 am (UTC)
John Cheever
The Enormous Radio by Cheever.
Oct. 26th, 2015 02:39 am (UTC)
John Chu's "The Water That Falls on You from Nowhere" comes to mind.
Oct. 26th, 2015 03:27 am (UTC)
Can't think of stories but lots of scenes from novels; the tractor in the early chapters of "The Grapes of Wrath", the rubber horse in the swimming pool in "The Day of the Locust", The Airborne Toxic Event in "White Noise"
Oct. 26th, 2015 11:45 am (UTC)
Those sound more like symbols or metonymyies (part standing for the whole) -- the ones in stories I'm thinking of are annoyingly inert, and in the end nothing is made of them.

Edited at 2015-10-26 11:47 am (UTC)
Oct. 26th, 2015 01:45 pm (UTC)
Yes, you're right. I'm staring at the collected stories of Malamud and Bashevis Singer, thinking there must be one inside that fits your description.
Oct. 26th, 2015 04:01 am (UTC)
For ones where it's an inexplicable character there's The Doubtful Guest, which must have been inspired by Sorrows of a Paterfamilias. A lot of other Kafka stories are close, like The Metamorphosis, Jackals and Arabs, Hunter Gracchus, and whichever story has the creature in the synagogue.

Calvino's three Our Ancestors narratives mostly fit that template: Baron in the Trees, Nonexistent Knoght, Cloven Viscount. Smog and The Argentine Ant are about people needing to make environmental adjustments, but both are plausible. Some Cosmicomics tales involve sudden encroachments of a disturbing rather than threatening nature, e.g. The Daughters of the Moon.

And that science-ish essayist popular in the '70s, something Lewis or Lewis something, had a story about mutant fish in a city that everyone quickly got used to.

I forget how the populace reacts to discovering Uqbar in Borges' stories, other than being gradually contaminated by its ideas and impossibilities. Which is a kind of acceptance, I guess.

The Woody Allen segment of New York Cities involves a giant woman in the sky that everyone comes to take for granted.
(Deleted comment)
Oct. 26th, 2015 02:48 pm (UTC)
Yes! That guy.

How'd I forget such a Welsh-bomb of a name?
Oct. 26th, 2015 03:12 pm (UTC)
A great book (now dated no doubt) but can't say I perceive the relevance.
Oct. 26th, 2015 11:49 am (UTC)
ALl smart and mostly more interesting than the class of stories I'm thinking of. I just remembered one: Stephen Millhauser's story "The Slap," where a guy keeps appearing and randomly slapping people in a kind ot inexplicable rage, then finally just disappears.
Oct. 26th, 2015 02:57 pm (UTC)
You weren't unclear. But direct examples seem just past the tip of my mental tongue.

Woman in the Dunes? Hmm.

Can't remember if part of the point of The Exterminating Angel was that the horrible upper middle class people complained about their magical imprisonment but didn't have much curiosity about it. Or if they instead did and it was more about just deserts.
Oct. 26th, 2015 03:14 pm (UTC)
well that's an intersting one, I must say. Their responses were indeed varied and all inadequate (one religious, one political, etc.) One of my all-time-great movies.
Oct. 26th, 2015 05:23 pm (UTC)
Like Wowbagger the Infinitely Prolonged...
Oct. 26th, 2015 03:14 pm (UTC)
The inability to leave the church in Buñuel's El Angel Exterminador.
It is not material though.
Oct. 26th, 2015 03:16 pm (UTC)
I see that one just came in too.
Oct. 26th, 2015 08:38 pm (UTC)
Pardon one more unhelpful memory fragment, but I recall a story in which some gargantuan insect-thing lands on Earth, its legs mostly in the Pacific Ocean. Earthquakes, tsunamis, the mayhem you'd expect then ensue. Later, it leaves. No idea where I read it.
Oct. 26th, 2015 11:44 pm (UTC)
Barthelme's "The Balloon"?

- matthew davis
Nov. 9th, 2015 02:20 am (UTC)
A perfect instance -- the only way it seems to differ fromn the ideal form is that the first person plural narrator ("we") has brought about the big balloon, filling it with helium from pipes connected to an underground source. WHich makes it one degree less random.
Oct. 30th, 2015 11:56 am (UTC)
"The Drowned Giant" by Ballard is a little bit like this. Additionally I think this characterizes a lot of Etgar Keret's stories, and a few of Ian Watson's as well (for instance, "My Soul Swims in a Goldfish Bowl").
Oct. 30th, 2015 12:26 pm (UTC)
"Drowned Giant" has been mentioned. The others I don't know.
Bob Nolin
Nov. 1st, 2015 07:30 pm (UTC)
This isn't a thing, but maybe it qualifies: Shirley Jackson's "The Lottery"
Nov. 5th, 2015 07:27 pm (UTC)
This is Dawgzy. R. Crumb's "Meatball"
Nov. 9th, 2015 02:16 am (UTC)
Nov. 7th, 2015 08:05 am (UTC)
James Thurber actually, for giant beings in the bedroom, living room and courtroom which in the cartoons may need explaining but never are - kangaroos, rhinoceri, giant puppies. And, to be fair, The Metamorphosis cockroach does at the end occupy the space you describe even though as a son and brother, his changing condition was recognized. For a time.

In stories about elephants in the room, there is no thought that we should be sorry for them. Large, unavoidable, disliked, fading into wallpaper or sky, they are never seen as beings because their scale is not fathomable. If the Triffids of post-war Britain had stood still longer, we would have seen them as communication pylons and they could found a better moment.

Nov. 9th, 2015 01:35 am (UTC)
J.G. Ballard's "The Watch-Towers" is a variant on this theme--it begins well after the inexplicable thing has (things have) appeared. It's one of his most enigmatic stories.

John Boston
Nov. 9th, 2015 02:14 am (UTC)
Ballard's story "The Drowned Giant" was instanced above -- a drowned giant, with no explanation or cause, ends up cut up by the coastal dwellers and buried (as fertilizer? I don't remember) but with the why and wherefore left unsaid.

Edited at 2015-11-09 02:17 am (UTC)
Nov. 12th, 2015 05:20 pm (UTC)
Graphic Novel
Shaun Tan's "The Lost Thing" http://www.shauntan.net/books/lost-thing.html Kind of giant tea-pot :)
Jan. 6th, 2016 01:44 pm (UTC)
Re: Graphic Novel
Don't know it. Thanks.
Nov. 19th, 2015 01:42 am (UTC)
The inserted object onto the scene that is either sanctioned or rejected. It takes what it needs from its spectators or participants in order to reach maximum expression.
Jan. 6th, 2016 01:12 pm (UTC)
The mysterious object in the sky seen by the children at the beginning of Murakami's Kafka on the Shore. Never mentioned again.
Jan. 6th, 2016 01:43 pm (UTC)
Thanks. Just right.
Mar. 7th, 2016 10:00 am (UTC)
One Hundred Years of Solitude
1. The "four years, eleven months, and two days"-long rain in One Hundred Years of Solitude.

2. The book with an infinite pages in Borges's The Book of Sand.

3. The "stepper" (an inexplicably simple device that helps people "step" from one Universe to another), or for that matter, the "Long Earth" itself, in Terry Pratchett and Stephen Baxter's The Long Earth.

4. Also, perhaps, the monoliths from 2001: A Space Odyssey?
Mar. 7th, 2016 01:11 pm (UTC)
RE: One Hundred Years of Solitude
I meant: "... an infinite number of pages ..."
Mar. 8th, 2016 12:43 pm (UTC)
Re: One Hundred Years of Solitude
Marquez probably wins -- besides these examples there is the Leaf Storm and probably another I'm not remembering. Thanks.
May. 24th, 2016 02:30 am (UTC)
"The Seraph and the Zambezi" by Muriel Spark
May. 24th, 2016 10:58 am (UTC)
Love Spark, have never heard of this stry -- will look for it. Thanks.
May. 31st, 2017 11:14 pm (UTC)
"The Drowned Giant", by J. G. Ballard.
( 42 comments — Leave a comment )