Where Barth and Coover laid bare the devices of fiction allegorically (J. Henry Waugh as “author” of his fictional baseball world) or through the occasional narrative disruption (the “author” making his presence known, as in Barth’s “Life-Story”), Federman’s fiction was more direct and unremitting in its undermining of narrative illusion. With its prose freed from the constraints of typographical bondage, climbing up, down, across, and around the page, and its “stories” of writers attempting to tell a story without quite succeeding, Federman’s fiction as represented in Double or Nothing (1971) and Take It or Leave It (1976), still his most important books, challenged not only reader’s preconceptions about fiction but also basic assumptions about reading itself.
Federman rejected both “metafiction” and “experimental fiction” more broadly as labels accurately describing his work, instead coining the term “surfiction” to sum up what he–as well as other innovative writers, such as Ronald Sukenick–was after. In his essay, “Surfiction–Four Propositions in Form of an Introduction,” Federman defines the term . . .