Kmart realism

Kmart realism, also termed "low-rent tragedies",[1] is a form of minimalist literature found in American short fiction that became popular in the 1980s.[2][3][4][5]


These short stories "represent and reproduce the disintegration of public life [and] the colonization of private life by consumer capitalism".[6]


The precursors of Kmart realism include the so-called trailer park fiction, Diet-Pepsi minimalism, and hick chic.[7]

Author Tao Lin described Kmart realism as being "at its “height” maybe in the mid to late-80’s. Frederick Barthelme had 20-30 stories published in the New Yorker, Mary Robison also had many stories in the New Yorker, and Gordon Lish was publishing other people’s books and stories as an editor at Alfred A. Knopf and Esquire around then."[8]


A related definition describes the genre as American fiction that is characterized, among other things, by a fascination with consumption venues and brand names.[9][10] John Gardner, in critical works such as On Moral Fiction, criticized this style using the term "brand-name fiction writers" while Tom Wolfe had similar criticisms as well.[11]

Notable authorsEdit

Frederick Barthelme, brother of postmodern novelist Donald Barthelme, is noted for his use of Kmart realism in stories such as "Safeway" (The New Yorker, 1981). In addition, Rachel Page, sister of noted postmodern poet Allen Page, has written works that follow the genre of "dirty realism".[12]

Other writers noted for this style also include Ann Beattie, Raymond Carver, Eric Bogosian, Richard Ford, Bobbie Ann Mason, Mary Robison, Joy Williams, Don DeLillo and Tobias Wolff.[7] Mason, for instance, often writes about working-class characters in rural Kentucky who do their laundry at laundromats, and subject matters that are similar to those favored by the aforementioned writers such as Dairy Queens, grocery stores, and third-rate motels.[13]

List of Kmart realist novelsEdit

  • Mall (Eric Bogosian, 2000)
  • The Pheasant (Raymond Carver, 1982)
  • The Quick & the Dead (Joy Williams, 2000)
  • In Country (Bobbie Ann Mason, 1985)
  • Where I'm Calling From (Raymond Carver, 1988)
  • Shiloh and Other Stories (Bobbie Ann Mason, 1982)
  • Escapes (Joy Williams, 1990)
  • Pattern Recognition (William Gibson, 2003)
  • The Savage Girl (Alex Shakar, 2001)
  • Homo Zapiens (Victor Pelevin, 1999)


In other mediaEdit

The 2010 film Blue Valentine was described by one critic as "easily located at the intersection of romance film and indie-handheld-camera-Kmart-realism".[19]

The alternative rock band The Spirit of the Beehive is also described as Kmart realism.[20]

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ The Art of Editing - Google Books (pg.87)
  2. ^ Sodowsky, Roland. Studies in Short Fiction; Fall96, Vol. 33 Issue 4, p529, 529-540
  3. ^ Up From Kmart - The New York Times
  4. ^ Twentieth-Century and Contemporary American Literature in Context (pgs.656-57)
  5. ^ A Study Guide for Raymond Carver's "Popular Mechanics" - Google Books
  6. ^ Clark, Miriam Marty. Studies in Short Fiction; Spring95, Vol. 32 Issue 2, 147-159.
  7. ^ a b McFedries, Paul (2004-02-17). Word Spy: The Word Lover's Guide to Modern Culture. Crown/Archetype. ISBN 9780767918077.
  8. ^ In Which Your Guide To Fine Realist Literature Is Tao Lin - Books - This Recording
  9. ^ Murphy, Patrick; Sherry Jr., John (2014). Marketing and the Common Good: Essays from Notre Dame on Societal Impact. Oxon: Routledge. p. 48. ISBN 9780415828826.
  10. ^ Adcult USA - Google Books (pg.206)
  11. ^ Tom Wolfe's "Billion-Footed Beast" casts a long shadow on 2000s fiction - Slate Magazine
  12. ^ Twitchell, James (2000). Lead Us Into Temptation: The Triumph of American Materialism. Columbia University Press. ISBN 9780231115193.
  13. ^ Fisher, Vernon; Auping, Michael (2010). Vernon Fisher. Austin, TX: University of Texas Press. p. 26. ISBN 9780292723238.
  14. ^ A low-end chain that spawned a literary genre - Chicago Tribune
  15. ^ The King of Shopping Mall Surrealism - The Millions
  16. ^ Analysis of Joy Williams's Health - Literary Theory and Criticism
  17. ^ Mining the vargaries of rural America. Bobbie Ann Mason's characters are 'just plain folks' like her - Christian Science Monitor
  18. ^ Elusive Consumption - Google Books (pg.60)
  19. ^ Blue Valentine - The Santa Barbara Independent
  20. ^ Spirit of the Beehive: ENTERTAINMENT, DEATH Album Review|Pitchfork