ABSTRACT

John Stephens observes that “[t]he worst things fantasy and realism can be accused of are that the former can be merely ‘escapist’ and the latter bleakly pessimistic.”1 In examining how three recent young adult novels offer alternate ways of contesting dominant cultural memories of the nation, I do not intend to confirm Stephens’s wry assessment. Reading American author M.T. Anderson’s dystopic novel Feed as an ironic commentary upon the missing third volume of his two-volume historical novel, The Astonishing Life of Octavian Nothing: Traitor to the Nation, I compare Anderson’s contestation of dominant cultural memories with the more hopeful vision present in British author Terry Pratchett’s parallel-world fantasy Nation. I do this not to generalize about the pessimism of realist fiction and the escapist tendencies of fantasy; rather, I want to foreground the narrative problems the historical record presents to those who would write about it without resorting to conventions of fantasy.