Fiction – Why Do We Love the Magic So Much? (Plus Three Great Books)
I just finished Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore
Robin Sloan. Now there’s a mouth-watering title for a devout reader, a magical
sounding name like Penumbra and a reference to books. We just know we’re going
to have a great escape reading this book. And I did. I could hardly wait until
evening, when I could pick up my device and tap the pages forward, learning
about a mysterious underground library and how it might relate to Silicon
Valley. I was so enthralled I signed up for SF Bay Area author Sloan’s
newsletter. The magic in this magical realism novel was one part conspiracy,
one part occult, and one part technology. The perfect elixir for me, also a
resident of the Bay Area. FIVE STARS!
But what is it that makes us crave magic in our stories? I
think the very telling of a tale implies that the listener will be lifted out
of ordinary reality. After all, a novel is a device, a machine made of words in
order to evoke feelings and realizations. It’s a crafted object. Real life has
its magical moments but they’re usually few and far between, and a novel with
magic in it lets us binge on that otherworldly feeling.
Another book that made me binge-read was Aimee Bender’s TheParticular Sadness of Lemon Cake
. In that lovely, sad, and
affirming story, a young girl can taste the feelings of the person who created
the food she eats. This makes life very difficult, as most people have a lot of
unpleasant feelings, so she starts not wanting to eat. But of course ultimately
this draws her to want to create food herself. FIVE STARS ISN’T ENOUGH FOR THIS FABULOUS PIECE OF LITERATURE!
I find magical realism more compelling that straight-up
fantasy. It has to do with the fact that real life has its magical
dimensions and moments -- moments of inspiration, transporting love, and heightened perception. Magical realism
doesn’t put me on another planet the way fantasy does. It keeps me on this one, and despite the chaos and destruction we hear about every day, this form of literature encourages me to believe in
those magical dimensions I've experienced as being more important. It urges wonder and allows
We need wonder and hope right now, more than ever. They’re built into
human consciousness, and the headlines, which are the opposite of magical
realism, tend to shut them down. So magical realism makes me feel more opened
out than reading the news.
Another magical realism book I recently tapped my way
quickly through was Sarah Addison Allen’s Garden Spells
. I have to give it
only FOUR STARS
. There was something
a little too folky, small-town nostalgia about the writing. There wasn’t quite
enough realism for me. I often felt I was reading sketches of characters,
rather than characters in their depth and reality. Bad things happened to good
people, but I remained unconvinced. Still, the magical trope, the special gifts
each of the three sisters had, and the prophesying apple tree (nice evocation
of the Garden of Eden), hooked me as magical elements that evoked wonder and
belief. And yes, hope.
I’m just starting a new one, hopefully. David Pandolfe's Jump When Ready
with a narrator in the afterlife, much like Amy Tan’s Saving Fish From Drowning
another good magical realism read. Stay tuned for more micro-reviews of these.
Labels: #amwriting, #fiction, book review, Magical realism, magical realism fiction