Fiction Collective Two is an author-run, not-for-profit publisher of artistically adventurous, non-traditional fiction.

The Life and Times of Major Fiction

The Life and Times of Major Fiction

The Life and Times of Major Fiction
by Jonathan Baumbach

1987. 198 pp.
Price: $17.95


The fourteen stories that make up Jonathan Baumbach's eighth book of fiction deals with parents, children, love, basketball, billiards, reading, marriage, divorce—the essentials of everyday life which, through the author's unique strategy of narrative, come to the reader in unexpected ways. Combining comedy and nightmare, these stories distinguish themselves by the charge of their imaginative life, their concern with language, and the play and replay of their form.


"Familiar Games" describes a one-on-one basketball game between a 12-year-old boy and his mother, a match that evokes a childhood memory of sexual mystery; "Passion?" concerns the disrepair of a marriage that has presented itself to friends and the world as ideal; "Children of Divorced Parents" centers on the problematic career of a filmmaker who, after several failed marriages, continues to pursue the illusion of first love; and the title story, "The Life and Times of Major Fiction," investigates the mysterious career of a literary confidence man, an impassioned lover of good books, whose life is itself a pastiche of the plots of major fictions.

"The Life and Times of Major Fiction is a dazzling sampler of pleasures. Jonathan Baumbach writes gorgeous prose and he has a rare comic/tragic vision, especially of love." —Hilma Wolitzer

"All of the 14 stories in this collection are very good, and several are perfect gems." —Publisher's Weekly

"This wonderful book of stories, if only because of its title, invites comparison and then stands the test: this is major fiction." —Russell Banks

"Jonathan Baumbach is far more than the witty biographer of Major Fiction. The fact is, major fiction would be of lesser rank without him." —Robert Coover



Every family has its games. Ours were in the service of an ostensibly competitive hierarchy. We had to defeat our mother—the game was basketball in those days—before we got to play our father. Not that we got to play him after that either, but if we were ever to play him, the obstacle of our mother had first to be set aside.

Our mother was usually too busy to play, and sometimes too busy to discuss her busyness, though one suspected that she practiced on the sly. If her form was wanting, or subtly underdeveloped, she had an uncanny knack for putting the ball through the hoop from the oddest angles. She played, whenever she could be enticed into a game, in an apron and slippers, and at times, when coming directly from the kitchen, in rubber gloves.

She gave advice while we played, suggestions for improvement, a woman with a pedagogic bent.

The game I most remember is not one of mine but a game my younger brother played against Mother. Phil had challenged me first, but for some reason—perhaps because I thought he might be able to take me—I declined the contest. Having limited natural ability, Phil practiced at every opportunity, studied self-improvement. One could wake up at two A.M., look out the window, and see him taking shots in the dark. His tenacity awed me.

Our mother was not awed. "This will have to be quick," she said, making hte first basket before Phil could ready himself on defense. "There's something in the oven that needs basting."

"Did that count?" Phil asked, withholding strenuous complaint, not wanting to provoke her into resigning from the game, one of the lessons by example she occasionally offered.

"I'll do that over," Mother said. "You weren't ready."

Phil insisted that it was all right, that even had he been fully prepared he couldn't have stopped her shot.