A literary genre characterized by a spare, terse style that features struggling, working-class characters in sterile, bleak environments.
While brand names are frequently found in Kmart realism, the most crucial aspect of the genre is its subject matter: people whose lives are circumscribed by strip malls, trailer parks, rent-to-own stores, tattoo parlors, gun shops, fast-food joints and tanning salons. People whose lives are marked by rootlessness.
Julia Keller, "A low-end chain that spawned a literary genre," Chicago Tribune, January 25, 2002
A favorite theme of the medieval fabliau is the May-December tale of the dotard husband cuckolded by his young wife. Phyllis Naylor's ''Unexpected Pleasures'' is a version of this old story rendered in the currently fashionable mode of K-Mart realism. The medieval fabliau was usually written to make fun of middle- or lower-class characters, and K-Mart realism, for all of its fascination not only with things but also the brand names of things, is often similarly condescending.
Edwin J. Kenney, "Take April As She Is" (book review), The New York Times, November 2, 1986
Before Kmart came along, this type of writing was often called trailer park fiction or, later, Diet-Pepsi minimalism or hick chic. These labels have been slapped on many writers over the past 15 years or so, but the ones most associated with this style are Frederick Barthelme, Ann Beattie, Eric Bogosian, Richard Ford, Bobbie Ann Mason, Mary Robison, Joy Williams, and Tobias Wolfe. The great and inimitable Raymond Carver is considered the patron saint of the genre.
Kmart realism (also: K-mart realism) was in full voice in the 1980s, but the term remains popular to this day. (I found nearly two dozen media citations in the past two years alone, and, of course, a few references most of them surprisingly melancholic have appeared since the untimely demise of the Kmart retailing empire.)