While poems and novels and non-fiction vary widely in tone, I find two forms of literature to commonly convey specific tones: short stories and fairy tales. Perhaps not all of them display these qualities, but certainly my favorites do.
The Roomie and I have discussed several times how short stories often have a poignancy to them. Perhaps it’s the brevity of the form and a bittersweet sense that the end has come too soon. Many also end with some sort of surprise, twist, sense of change that heightens the melancholy of the end. Here I’m thinking of “The Yellow Wallpaper,” Niffenegger’s “The Night Bookmobile,” many of Kate Chopin‘s stories (“The Story of an Hour,” anyone?), even Stephen King. It’s that quality that makes them truly short stories to me, instead of merely too-short-to-be-novels.
The peculiar sense of fairy tales is more difficult to parse out; a true case of “you know it when you see it.” Many modem novels have plot devices and entire narratives taken from traditional fairy tales, but most of them lack whatever quality it is that marks fairy tales as such. Part of it may be the “Everyman” tendency of fairy tales to call characters by the vocation or role, instead of a name. Even in tales where they are named, there tends to be minimal character development, exposition, and motivation. That’s one of the things that continually draws me to exploring fairy tales in my own writing: why did the villain curse the princess, why would a king kill his own wife for not spinning straw into gold? That lack of explanation has some harmony with magic realism.
I’d ponder this further, but I’m nearly finished reading Holly Black’s Tithe. Adieu!